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The Multilingual History of 3 Common Internet Symbols 

The online world has a vocabulary all its own. And it’s not all words, either. But while we think of “hashtags” and “likes” as modern English inventions, they go back much further. In fact, these Internet symbols are much older than the Internet, and they weren’t originally English.

Want to learn more?  Let’s take a look at the multilingual history behind 3 of the Internet’s most common symbols.

Internet Symbols Around the World: The Hashtag (#)internet symbol hashtag

Hashtags have taken over the Internet. That’s not a bad thing. Twitter would be all but useless without them. (Unfortunately, they’re also invading our speech. Surely I’m not the only one who dies a little inside everytime someone says “Hashtag” followed by something intended to be clever or snarky?)

But the# symbol hasn’t always been  called a “hashtag,” and it’s much older than the Internet.  The hashtag started out as an abbreviated of the Latin word for “pound,” libra pondo. Prior to Twitter, Americans still called it a “pound sign.” Sometime between the 17th and 19th centuries, people got tired of writing “lb” for “pound” and starting writing # instead. So, it’s basically an abbreviation of an abbreviation.

In 1968, the hash sign was added to the push-button dialpad created by Bell Labs for the telephone. But for some reason, the people working at Bell Labs decided that terms like “pound sign”, “number sign” and “hash sign” were inadequate, so they rechristened it the “octothorpe.” According to the New Statesman, this may have been part of a juvenile plot to ““piss off” international users by inventing a name that is difficult to say in some languages.”

Fortunately, octothorpe didn’t quite catch on. Read more