That Number Sign Thingy


Everything has a name. Some things have several names. If I said “pound sign” most push-button phone users would know which symbol I was speaking about. But I do remember a time when I had no idea that # stood for pound as well. I just called it “the number sign.”

Now I find I can call it an octothorpe.

When might I want to call it an octothorpe? Maybe when it’s a footnote symbol–neither a number sign or a pound sign. Or perhaps a very precise character would use the word. Or one who wants to impress someone with his vocabulary, because there was nothing else impressive about him/her. A less precise person might call it a tic-tac-toe grid imitating the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

I love knowing the names of things–the words that draw vivid pictures in the mind of a reader. I’m currently reading Escape Into the Open: The Art of Writing True by Elizabeth Berg. I think the thing that impresses me the most about her as a writer is that she captures a snapshot in words. Those words are crisp, exact, and the picture they draw is clear and recognizable. But it’s the details that make me say–yes! I can see that.

Don’t know that octothorpe would do that.  Well, it will now.  It would have drawn a blank before today. But after today…..perhaps a few more will know what I’m talking about. 🙂  Aren’t words wonderful?

This post first appeared on my old blog on December 10, 2003 and has been edited to appear here for Way-Back Wednesday. 🙂  The piece was based on the AWAD entry for that date:  octothorpe (OK-tuh-thorp) noun.  The symbol #.


2 responses to “That Number Sign Thingy

  1. Elizabeth Berg has a wonderful article in the June issue of Real Simple. Every sentence paints a picture and touches the heart with emotion.


  2. Carolyn Dekat

    Oooh, June’s Real Simple is in my “to-read” stack. As is her new book.


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