The Real Source of The Word “Octothorpe”

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From: (Ralph Carlsen)
Date: Tue, 28 Nov 1995 16:21:55 -0500
Subject: Octothorpe (The Answer)


First, where did the symbols * and # come from? In about 1961 when DTMF¹ dials were still in development, two Bell Labs guys in data communications engineering (Link Rice and Jack Soderberg) toured the USA talking to people who were thinking about telephone access to computers. They asked about possible applications, and what symbols should be used on two keys that would be used exclusively for data applications. The primary result was that the symbols should be something available on all standard typewriter keyboards. The * and # were selected as a result of this study, and people did not expect to use those keys for voice services. The Bell System in those days did not look internationally to see if this was a good choice for foreign countries.

  • We need a few more letters or another syllable to make a noun, so what should that be? (Don MacPherson at this point in his life was active in a group that was trying to get JIM THORPE’s (ibid) Olympic medals returned from Sweden) The phrase THORPE would be unique, and people would not suspect he was making the word up if he called it an “OCTOTHORPE”.

Inventor of the hashtag. Ever-curious product designer and technologist. Previously: Google, Uber, Molly (YC W18).

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