Octothorpes and interrobangs

octothorpe, noun = # The literal meaning of this word is “eight fields”: thorpe comes from the Old Norse for village, farm or hamlet, and octo means eight. In cartography it’s used as a symbol for villages: eight fields around a central square. Other names for this symbol include hash, numeral sign, number sign, pound sign and crosshatch.

There’s more information and the names of this symbol in various other languages on Wikipedia

interrobang, noun = ‽ – a little-used symbol that combines the question mark and exclamation mark.

These words came up yesterday on Word of Mouth, BBC Radio 4’s programme about words and language, when they discussed some of the unusual names for symbols like #, @, & and !. Other names they mentioned included screamer or bang for the exclamation mark (!), monkey’s tail, snail or elephant (in languages other than English) for the @ sign, bithorpe for the hyphen (-) and quadrothorpe for the equals sign (=).

You can listen to Word of Mouth on the BBC website

Do you have any interesting/poetic names for these or other symbols?

This entry was posted in English, Language, Words and phrases.

10 Responses to Octothorpes and interrobangs

  1. Bill Walsh says:

    I’ve always enjoyed “virgule” (/) (a/k/a solidus or seperatrix [why the latter is feminine, I have no clue!). “Pilcrow” (¶) is also very cool, as is “dagger” or “obelos” (†). (Also, Astérix & Obélix supposedly get their names from * and †…)

    I thought I once knew the name for the dot on lowercase i and j, but it’s long gone…

  2. Mike says:

    I believe the dot on “i” and “j” is called a tittle, but that’s just what a literature teacher in high school told me.

  3. Rhus says:

    Could it actually be “interrobang”?

    About the virgule: these terms are a mess, but why not “slash” for this sign: /? I’ve just found in a dictionary that “virgule” in English could mean the crossbar which unites two vertical or adjoining bars in a letter, i. e. the horizontal line in an A or an e.

    “Vírgula” in Spanish could be a number of things: in general, a thin, small line. Many people call “virgulilla” this sign ~, also when it’s over a n to get the phoneme ñ. I believe in English it’s called “tilde”; also in Spanish, but it seems better to reserve this last word for the sign over certain stressed vowels (á, é, í, ó, ú).

    Surprised about the “tittle”. No doubt it is as you both say, but why would there be a different name for those dots?

    Sorry, no poetic names. For me, it’s enough to read a bit about virgules to feel certain dizziness incompatible with imaginative efforts.

    (Sorry too about carelessness with italics. And congratulations on the site.)

  4. Adam Reisman says:


    Have you considered adding a multilingual page showing the names of common symbols (@ or &) in foreign languages?

  5. balindsey says:

    The English name for the upside-down question mark used in Spanish is a “quazzy.”

    Always liked that one.

  6. Simon says:

    Rhus – you’re right – it should be interrobang.

    Adam – good idea. When I have a spare moment or two, I’ll do that.

  7. Slamáque says:

    In Czech, the @ symbol is commonly called “zavináč” – a pickled herring. It’s because it’s derived from “vinout” – “to twist” or “to roll”. The Germans apparently call it “Klammeraffe” – “bracket monkey”.

  8. Zachary Read says:

    The symbol for @ has a very strange history. Some dispute it was an abreviation for ‘ad’ (to) in latin, others say it’s deformed from the french à (to). Some say it was once used for monetary purposes, but it has an official use in the Middle Ages in Spain and Portugal as a unit of weight mesurement.
    Anyhow, it gained the name ‘arrobas’ in spanish from the arab word ‘ar-roub’, meaning ‘a quarter’. Now that this word has been borrowed into french, it has no defined written form. You can find it written as so: arrobas, arobase, arobace, arrobe, arobe… And for e-mail, it is said the same as ‘à’.

  9. In Italy a large majority of people call the @ symbol chiocciola = “snail”, although more experienced PC users prefer to use the English name “at”. “Ad” would have been an interesting alternative, as suggested by Zachary, but apparently nobody thought of this. Too bad!

    Another peculiar name is used for indicating the # symbol, which in Italy was barely used at all up to 1-2 decades ago, i.e. before the age of keys and keyboards: to virtually every Italian, # is cancelletto = “small gate”.

  10. Dirk says:

    This is a wonderful wealth of information. Good Luck!

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