The # and its double success

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Following our recent article on neologisms, we now present a term that has successfully entered many languages in the last decade. The younger generation among us might not even remember the word octothorpe, the official name of a sign that is now omnipresent all over social media: The # hashtag.

Introduced as a new social media tool by Twitter in 2007, the concept made it possible to search for keywords preceded by the octothorpe symbol with just one simple click. To read more about its current use and its influence on our communication patterns, see our post from last year. Hashtags are now used all over the social media landscape, including Facebook, Instagram and others. Thus the (re-)invention of hashtags was a full success.

However, it is not too long ago that the symbol # was used in many other fields such as programming, telecommunication, and even in weight measurement, as well as to indicate numbers. Depending on the field and situation is was called pound sign, number sign or mesh in English, Raute (“rhomb”) or Quadrat (“square”) in German or dièse in French. The latter is furthermore frequently used in music notation. Moreover, more creative names such as Garten- or Lattenzaun (“garden or batten fence”) (in German) are used in daily language. In Chinese, the hashtag is named following the similarity of the shape of the hashtag symbol to the Chinese character for “well” (jing – 井) – a hashtag is simply a “jing symbol” (井号). Whether coincidentally or not, in Spanish the symbol is called almohadilla, which at the same time refers to a little pillow. All meaning the same, the word “hashtag” is becoming more and more popular and for the younger speakers of certain languages it even seems to replace the “old” words, even when actually talking about the phone key with the symbol # – a second success for the hashtag. Some online sources even claim that in 2012 a mother called her new-born baby after the hashtag symbol.

The many fields the symbol has been used in represent its long history, probably starting as the abbreviation lb – written in italics – for the Latin libra pondo (“pound weight”) in the 14th century. By adding lb in front of numbers, it ensured that the l and 1 could not be confused.

 

Written by Martina Christen
Study visitor at TermCoord

Student in Multilingual and Multicultural Communication