Build your vocabulary with Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day! Each day a Merriam-Webster editor offers insight into a fascinating new word -- explaining its meaning, current use, and little-known details about its origin.
July 22nd, 2015
Episode 264 of 681 episodes
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for July 22, 2015 is: octothorpe \AHK-tuh-thorp\ noun : the symbol # Examples: "To demonstrate and test the varying thicknesses that a pen is capable of imparting, Ivy League students often begin by writing an octothorpeknown to some plebians as a 'hashtag.'" Evan Siegel, Columbia Spectator (Columbia University), December 6, 2014 "Whatever it ought to be called, Messina chose to use this symbol for collating Twitter searches in 2007 because he wanted a sign that could be input from a low-tech cellphone. He had two options: octothorpe or asterisk. He chose the former." Roman Mars, Slate.com, December 17, 2014 Did you know? A versatile symbol with many names (among them hash mark, number sign, and pound sign), the octothorpe has become popularized as the go-to symbol for marking trending topics on Twitter and other social media. It is believed to have been adopted by the telecommunications industry with the advent of touch-tone dialing in the 1960s. Stories abound about how the odd symbol got its name. The octo- part almost certainly refers to the eight points on the symbol, but the -thorpe remains a mystery. One story links it to a telephone company employee who happened to burp while talking about the symbol with co-workers. Another relates it to the athlete Jim Thorpe and the campaign to restore posthumously his Olympic medals, which were taken away after it was discovered that he played baseball professionally previous to the 1912 Games. A third claims it derives from an Old English word for "village."