In this particular question, clearly commonly available references were not good enough, as many high-rep users disagreed among themselves about the English name for this object (#).

I can see it being closed for, perhaps, irrelevance to the English language. But since, as I say, good comments from high-rep users and a well-researched answer (which I must admit is mine) still shows much disagreement exists about this, how can it be closed as OT for reason # 1?

This, I don't understand. Is it just because people don't want to type in a custom answer? Or are there fine points that I'm not seeing?

  • 3
    It's totally gen ref. It's all over the web. Also, your edit/additions to the question are totally inappropriate; they are perfect for comments though.
    – Mitch
    Apr 5, 2014 at 4:38
  • @Mitch - is it the chattiness that makes it inappropriate? Otherwise I don't understand what you mean. It is part of the answer. Apr 5, 2014 at 5:31
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    It's not chatty at all. Note that your added paragraph has absolutely -no- content specific to the OP. It is simply commentary about actions surrounding the question which could easily be made for a question of totally different content. IT is not about the content of the question (and also probably not supporting the intent of the questioner). Note that a mod removed your paragraph. It is totally appropriate for this particular meta question.
    – Mitch
    Apr 5, 2014 at 15:30
  • @Mitch - ah, got it. You're right, it doesn't answer the question. As I see it's still there, I'll edit and make appropriate. Thanks for the explanation. Apr 5, 2014 at 17:23
  • It has a lot of different names. Like most things. What's the issue here? Apr 6, 2014 at 0:15
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    I don't think the "disagreement" on that question was really about the validity of any of the alternative names for the symbol. To me at least, it was more about the "cultural insouciance" of some Americans failing to recognise that Brits can't possibly call # a "pound symbol" because for us that has to mean the £ symbol. All of which is made even more tiresome by the fact that on US keyboards # is on the same key (shifted "3") as £ on UK keyboards. Brits who need US tech support soon learn this, but their American counterparts are often blissfully unaware of the issue. Apr 6, 2014 at 13:58
  • @FumbleFingers - the pound sign existed for hundreds of years in England before Americans even came to be. If it is impossible that it could be called a pound notation/sign/abbreviation/other, can you at least tell me how it was referred to then, before you drag Americans into this? Was it called the hash in 1500? Also your comment that "the 'pound sign'... has no connection whatsoever to our actual symbol £" seems incorrect to me. At one point, they clearly both indicated a weight: a pound (eventually 12 troy ounces of silver or 16 aviordupois ounces.) Apr 6, 2014 at 20:40
  • @medica: For all I know, it's quite possible quite a few Americans were always in the habit of using # to mean pounds (weight). But I have never in all my life seen the symbol thus used in the UK, nor did I ever hear anyone call it that until I had to get to grips with US keyboards when the IBM PC first came out. Effectively, we're only talking about a very recent usage here, which suits Americans but inconveniences Brits. Apr 6, 2014 at 20:48
  • @FumbleFingers - You have not answered my question, I think. Instead you prefer to use an association fallacy, a kind of Reg Herring. Apr 6, 2014 at 20:55
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    @medica: Which question? I don't know or care what any of these symbols were called before I was born, nor do I think it matters whether # and £ were originally "the same symbol". All I have been saying ever since my first comment on the original question is that Brits today think of these as two totally distinct symbols with different names. And it's kinda irritating that Americans (who have little reason to care about a distinction which is important to us) insist on promoting a naming convention that causes us much confusion. Apr 6, 2014 at 21:02
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    @medica: I think we really have "done this one to death". I know what point I'm making, and I simply don't believe you still can''t see where I'm coming from. But I have no idea what point you're trying to make (increasingly it seems to me you're just trying to score a point, so I think I'd rather call a halt before anyone gets hurt! :) Apr 6, 2014 at 21:19
  • @FumbleFingers - I am not trying to score a point. Please don't ascribe motives. I haven't tried to analyze yours. The fact is, you have not answered my original question, and as you stated, you don't care. So please, there is no need to continue to engage, and certainly none to call my motives into question. N'est-ce pas? :) Apr 6, 2014 at 21:44
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    I often get the impression that if a question is gen ref it's closed as gen ref but if an answer does not have refs it's not really a good answer. Were this applied evenly and indiscriminately we should get a no-answerable-question-allowed Q&A site
    – msam
    Apr 11, 2014 at 9:10

3 Answers 3


The topic is interesting in its own right. And I think that's important to keep in mind: A question that's General Reference doesn't have to be trivial or boring; it could be so compelling that it's caught the interest of many different people, laymen like myself and researchers alike.

And the answers to it are great! I always thought # was an odd symbol to connect with pound, but the images in your answer connecting it with a cursive "lb" are enlightening.

But I can see two interpretations of the question. And they vary over how easily they are answered by general references. I have a guess about which the asker meant, but I figure those who voted to close may have read the other meaning. I present them below.

Is there a difference between sharp sign and pound sign? Consider the original post:

What's the correct definition of the symbol "#"?

I'm used to say "Sharp sign" to make reference to # sign.

Today a friend told me that the correct "saying" is Number sign or Hash sign or even just Hash.

What is the difference between those "options" and what's the correct usage of the words for this sign?

It is unclear to me what the OP meant by those options. If OP is not asking for when to use sharp sign versus when to use number sign or hash sign or hash, then

  • What is the purpose of the introductory sentence?
  • Why use quotes around "Sharp sign" and "saying" if not to mark those as the also-quoted "options"?
  • Why use correct in both the question title and in describing the friend's terms if not to ask "Is sharp sign also a valid name for #?"

If the incorrect term sharp sign for # has no bearing on OP's question, it might have been better to omit the first sentence entirely with something like

Today a friend told me that the way to say # is Number sign or Hash sign or even just Hash...

If OP wants to know the difference between sharp sign and number sign, the top entry of a Google search of sharp sign, OP's phrase of choice, addresses this:

The sharp symbol (♯) may be confused with the number (hash or pound) sign (#). Both signs have two sets of parallel double-lines. However, a correctly drawn sharp sign must have two slanted parallel lines which rise from left to right, to avoid being obscured by the staff lines. The number sign, in contrast, has two compulsory horizontal strokes in this place. In addition, while the sharp also always has two perfectly vertical lines, the number sign (#) may or may not contain perfectly vertical lines (according to typeface and writing style).

(Note: As I write this post, the above WP citation has a "citation needed" label. Although I hold its information to be true from my own experience, I would personally need a similar answer from another easily-available source before calling it General Reference.)

What is the most popular label for #? Judging from OP's comments and behavior, I think this is the intended question. OP wants to know a general, context-independent name for #, so the comment "Look a cloud shaped like a 'insert-correct-name' sign in the sky!" is easily understood and unambiguous. OP accepted the answer that went into depth about the derivation and typical context for each name of #, such as

  • The label pound sign used in weighing

    [The name] pound sign... developed as a scribble for the abbreviation of pound in latin: lb, where lb is an abbreviation of libra, itself a shortened form of the full expression, libra pondo... If you look at how scribes scribbled lb, you might recognize the sign (in the first example) [example omitted] amongst the scribbled and attached lines.... That is still how it's scribbled: I do it myself when recording the weights of babies...

  • The label octothorpe used in the phone industry

    ... octothorp was coined by someone working for a phone company

  • The label hash tag in used in Information Technology

    Hash tag ... in IT as a tag to group information.

and ended with the rule-of-thumb:

But from the 1300s, it has been known as the pound sign, or, in England, the number sign.

I do not consider the question answered here as General Reference.

But judging by what's presented in the question alone (disregarding information outside of it, such as OP's comments and my evaluations of OP's behavior) I understand why it might be closed as OT because of General Reference. Disagreements about what the name for # ought to be seem to me more indicative that the question interpreted is asking for opinions. Why does OP believe there ought to be a correct name? Does that imply other names for it are incorrect? What does OP mean by correct: popular, technical, general, original, or something else?

I think encouraging OP to clear up these gray areas would help remove the on-hold status the question now has.

  • Thank you for your answer. There are viewpoints I never considered here. This is very helpful. Apr 6, 2014 at 9:23

It has at least 4 names I can think of off the top of my head. Does it have an official name? Who knows but it is at least debatable.

I am assuming that it was off topic for some because they think their word is the word.

But all of this is assuming that there is any consistency or rationale for closing things (written by native speakers).

  • Names for ASCII characters have nothing to do with "English Language and Usage", which is what's on topic here. That's all. I'm sure there are dozens of other SEs where it would be appropriate. Apr 6, 2014 at 0:17
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    @JohnLawler - Do English speakers use ASCII sign language to describe/say it? Apr 6, 2014 at 3:37
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    @JohnLawler, I disagree very strongly with that. How native English speakers in various situations/dialects/places/whatever choose to express a written glyphs in actual speech is exclusively about the English language and its usage. It’s about nothing else, and if it were asked on any other SE site, I’m fairly sure it would be migrated to ELU (as it should be). Apr 6, 2014 at 12:46
  • Most English speakers have no idea what ASCII is. English spelling letters and punctuation is one thing; octothorpe is another. How about Control-G and Hyper-Meta-Cokebottle? Apr 6, 2014 at 14:49
  • 1
    @JohnLawler - Well if we have another name for Control-G or pronounce it different, then maybe that is a question. Language has modernized for better or worse and I think the site should keep up. Apr 6, 2014 at 15:30

I think the confusion is that the experts answered a question which was not asked.

The question asked what the correct name(s) is(are). That's general reference, off topic.

The experts addressed the origin and region-specific uses of various names. That's on topic.

Perhaps the question should be edited to explicitly ask for the information the experts have provided.


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