November 30, 2010

Octothorpe named for Jim Thorpe?

An article about the octothorpe (#), more commonly called the pound sign:

What we have here is one of the great comeback stories in the history of competitive punctuation

By Robert FulfordThis year GQ magazine, a major arbiter of the cool, has anointed # "symbol of the year." GQ explains: "Hashtags have changed the way we think, communicate, process information. # is everywhere." What we have here is one of the great comeback stories in the history of competitive punctuation. Today, &, © and ® have been left in the dust (of course@retains its status in email).The "octo" part of the name is obvious.And where did "thorpe" come from? The American Heritage Dictionary says it honours James Edward Oglethorpe, the 18th-century British general who helped found the colony of Georgia in 1732. A more popular story has an engineer at Bell Labs deciding to honour Jim Thorpe, an Indian athlete who won the pentathlon and decathlon for the U.S. at the 1912 Olympics; he had his gold medals taken from him when his background as a professional athlete was disclosed, a decision that was reversed three decades after his death.Comment:  For some reason, this is my first posting about a punctuation mark named after an Indian.

For more on Thorpe, see Review of Jim Thorpe: World's Greatest Athlete and Mauch Chunk Became "Jim Thorpe."


Anonymous said...

I have to take objection to the ampersand's uselessness. It's useful in C as meaning a bitwise "and", so 5 & 2 = 101 & 010 = 000 = 0. Also in C, it's also doubled to make the more traditional, Boolean meaning of "and", as in "x && y" means the same as "x and y".

Of course, you can't do anything in C without the #, so I have to #include it as tying with the brackets, parentheses, and semicolon.

The ampersand is also useful in HTML, but primarily with the oglethorpe.

Rob said...

The ampersand is used in much more than just programming languages. It often appears in items such as titles ("Cowboys & Aliens") and abbreviations (R&D, S&L). The article clearly dismissed it too quickly.