Hendricks County Flyer, Avon, IN

March 29, 2013

It's time to retire the octothorp

By Rebecca Todd
CNHI

— Will somebody please tell me what this is: # ?

When I was a kid, I thought it was just a really small tic tac toe grid. You know, like for Barbie and Ken to play.

Later I leaned that it was a number sign and could be used to denote a numerical value. Huh. Barbie and Ken had it all wrong.

When I began to take violin lessons, the symbol again took on a new meaning. It turned out it was not a number sign or a tic tac toe grid for unnaturally attractive dolls. It was a sharp sign. The symbol after a note means to slide my finger on the string and play the note as a sharp. Got it.

All of that also came into question later when all the phones became automated and computerized voices started telling me to "push the pound sign."

"What the heck is a pound sign?" I thought. Well, guess what! It's that same little grid that Barbie and Ken used to play on. Yes, as I discovered, when put before a number it means "number," but when it comes after a number it means "pound." Got it. Again.

Then came a college major that required writing a lot of essays and journalistic pieces. At that point "###" meant "the end." This is the point where I started to get irritated. How could one symbol mean so many things? Or was it actually evolving and changing just to irritate me? I began boycotting #. I refused to use it to mean "the end" or "number." I snubbed all games of tic tac toe. I gave up the violin. I had nightmares where hundreds of #'s wearing little tennis shoes chased me.

Just kidding. I gave up the violin way before college. But seriously, the dreams were horrid.

Then the Internet came along and all the little symbols in the universe took on a new life.

Now I know what you're thinking: "Did she seriously graduate from college before the Internet came along?" But that is not the point of the story, so you need to focus.

Like I said, all the symbols adopted new meanings with the advent of computer programming and the Internet. I discovered that the symbol is actually called an "octothorp." That sounds pretty creepy to me. I can see that in a horror movie: "Attack of the Octothorp." It would star Paris Hilton, Jamie Lee Curtis, and introducing Joe Biden as the Octothorp! Gah! I'm being chased by an octothorp!

Where was I?

Next up came social media and the # once again got a new life. Now it's called a hashtag and it's more irritating than ever. Supposedly, using the symbol before a word or phrase links similar posts on Twitter and other social media sites. Worse, people are starting to use it in everyday conversations which, much like every speech given by Joe Biden, serves no discernable purpose whatsoever.

It's the final straw. I say death to all hashtag-number-pound-sharp-theend-tictactoe octothorps! Let's face it, # has had a long life and a lot of jobs. It's time to retire it.

Let the nightmare end.

- Rebecca Todd is a freelance writer and the author of the book "What's the Point?" available at booklocker.com. Contact her at btodd@tds.net.