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What is it?

This section identifies common names for several glyphs.

The ``@'' Character

The "at" sign or "commercial at" sign. In the past, it has also meant "each" or "each at". Consider the following example supplied by Clive Burton:

                                    Unit         Extended
   Qnty Unit   Item                 Price        Price
   12   reams  bond paper           @ 5.50       66.00

Here' "@" means each at or simply each.

PostScript calls this the "at" sign.

The ``#'' Character

This mark has several common names: 'hash', 'hatch', 'pound sign', and 'octothorp' among them. The name "pound sign" is an Americanism that causes some confusion in countries that use the pound for currency.

It was also noted that the # is a medieval abbreviation for Latin ``numerus'' - it is a cursive 'n' with a horizontal slash through it, much modified and abstracted.

One possible derivation of the name ``octothorp'' was provided by Charles Bigelow:

... old English "thorp" meant 'hamlet' or 'village' (I'm not sure of the difference, except maybe hamlet is smaller, as its apparent diminutive suffix would suggest), and is derived from a much older Indo-European word *treb- for 'dwelling', which turns out to mean 'beam' or 'timber' in Latin "trabs", winding up as "trave" in Anglo-Latin, like "architrave" - the beam resting on a column, or "trab-" as in "trabecula" - a small supporting beam or bar. As Voltaire said, etymology is a science in which the vowels count for nothing and the consonants for very little.

So, maybe "octothorp" means "8-beams", which makes a kind of sense if we take the 8 projections to be the thorps, or trabs or traves. Though it's only a "quadrathorp" if we think that the beams connect.

Another explanation has it that the octothorp is a ``thorp'' surrounded by eight cultivated fields.

Both of these etymologies received some skepticism amongst the readers who commented on comp.fonts.

PostScript calls this the "numbersign".

Excerpted from The comp.fonts FAQ, Copyright © 1992-96 by Norman Walsh