99% Invisible: 145- Octothorpe
December 17, 2014 5:51 AM - Subscribe

In our current digital age, the hashtag identifies movements, events, happenings, brands—topics of all kinds. The “#” didn’t always have this meaning, though. It’s had a few different lives...

Producer Avery Trufelman spoke with Chris Messina, inventor of the hashtag; Andy Lorek, a former employee of Twitter; Keith Houston, the author of Shady Characters: The Secret Life of Punctuation, Symbols, and Other Typographical Marks; Doug Kerr, the engineer who chose the # symbol for the telephone keypad; and Lauren Asplund, who coined the word “octotherp” for AT&T. See the Show Notes Page for photos, videos, and much more.
posted by jazon (8 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Even though I know the history of the hashtag on Twitter, that was great to hear Chris Messina and others talk about it. Hearing about a young pizza guy asking someone in an apartment building "Hey, you know where hashtag 2A is?" was the funniest thing I've heard all day. It was also fun to hear the origin of the symbol and phrase (I once had an argument with a boss who wanted to use "25pds" to denote 25 pounds instead of "25lbs" and I couldn't explain why pounds = lbs, I just knew it was correct) and why we got those two weird symbols on a phone keypad.

I've never in my life heard a pound sign called an octo-anything though. Was that completely made up or is that an actual thing?
posted by mathowie at 9:28 AM on December 17, 2014

Ask this guy.
posted by entropicamericana at 10:07 AM on December 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

It's an actual thing, though as they indicate in the podcast, it's an actual thing among people who call the paragraph sign a pilcrow, and who know their em dashes from their en dashes.

Some good friends of mine have a dog named Octothorpe (Thorpa for short). Her tag says:

posted by ocherdraco at 12:43 PM on December 17, 2014

I couldn't explain why pounds = lbs, I just knew it was correct

Not that it's that important, but "lb." is an abbreviation of Roman libra (much like "oz." is from onza, not "ounce"), which is probably easiest to remember if you recall its zodiac symbol.
posted by psoas at 12:57 PM on December 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Roman Mars tweeted that Avery Trufelman wants to get verified on Twitter...so I started a hashtag #verifytrufelman (I actually have no idea how Twitter verification works but I thought it was appropriate considering this week's episode).
posted by radioamy at 10:15 PM on December 17, 2014

This was my favorite episode of 99pi so far. I kept going "OOOh really?" especially about the creation of hashtags.

What a fucking amazing contradiction/analogy between the development of hashtags and the dev of the pound sign on the phone. In one, users were able to show the company what to do because the product was smart enough to be adaptable, and because one engineer was smart enough to just implement a single line of code without asking any business assholes, and now Twitter now has a a viable business model. Without #tags they would have folded.

Meanwhile at Bell Labs the engineers had to battle tooth and nail with biz assholes who wanted a damn diamond on the phone probably because it tested well or something.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:15 AM on December 19, 2014

oh god I'm such a dork I just actually listened to the episode
posted by psoas at 2:22 PM on December 19, 2014

I found myself having a very minor nails-on-chalkboard reaction to one aspect of it — IMO the # sign is pronounced "hash" not "hashtag". ("Hashtag" is a hash sign plus word or words.) So if doing the irritating using-hashtags-in-speech thing, "I'm #dragging #sotired" would be pronounced "I'm hash-dragging hash-so-tired".

Of course, I don't spend time with people who do this and never actually hear people using the phrase, so maybe it's how the kids do it these days… (wrongly, that is, while standing on my lawn).
posted by Lexica at 8:22 AM on December 23, 2014

« Older Movie: The Hobbit: Battle of t...   |  Mad Men: At the Codfish Ball... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments