# has a name you’d never guess
Depending on when you were born, you probably know the # symbol as either a pound sign, number sign,
or for the Twitter junkies among us,
a hashtag. Turns out, none of those names are right: According to an
engineer at Bell Labs (formerly part of AT&T), which made the symbol mainstream via its touch-tone telephones in 1968, that little hex is called an octothorpe. The octo logically describes the symbol’s eight points. As for the thorpe, some theories say it comes from the Old English word for village (thorp), referencing the hex’s appearance of eight little fields surrounding a central square; others say the Bell researchers were just really big fans of the late Olympian Jim Thorpe, and needed a cool-sounding syllable to finish their new word. #TheMoreYouKnow Maybe we should add the octothorpe to this list of 12 secret punctuation marks we should all start using.
@ has hilarious names around the world
A Dutchman calls it the monkey’s tail, an Israeli insists it’s a strudel. They aren’t bantering about some new simian-themed bakery; they’re just describing the @. Though shorthand use of the @ dates back to the 16th century, it took English speakers a remarkably long time to settle on a name. Today, we know it as the “at mark” or “commercial at” and are accustomed to seeing it in e-mail addresses. Meanwhile, the rest of the world was inventing brilliant descriptors, like the “little dog” (Russian), the “small snail” (Italian), and the straight-up “crazy A” (Bosnian). It gets way worse, of course—just check out these foreign signs with hilariously bad translations.
! was a big pain to type
Though the exclamation point has helped express strong sentiments on paper since the 15th century, this upstanding punctuation mark didn’t get its own dedicated typewriter key until the 1970s. Before then, typists who wanted to use interjections in their work had to type a period, then backspace and type an apostrophe atop it. Secretarial manuals of the ’50s called this Franken-symbol a bang—not to be confused with an interrobang, which is an exclamation point overlapping with a question mark to indicate incredulity. Can you believe we stopped using this ‽