The Big O is a sign with deep historical and cultural roots, part of our heritage. It didn’t deserve the neglect it suffered in recent times. It’s lived under many names: the hash, the crunch, the hex (that’s in Singapore), the flash, the grid. In some circles it’s called tic-tactoe, in others pig-pen. From a distance it looks like the sharp sign on a musical score. Whether you call it a pound sign or a number sign or anything else, it retains its identity. It’s so majestically simple that it always looks good, even if drawn by someone utterly without graphic talent. Good old #. It can’t go wrong.
Even so, it was in decline for years. After generations of vigorous life everywhere in the retailing world where numbers were written, it lost out to computerized invoices and receipts that simply ignored its value. In literature, after centuries showing printers where to put spaces, it was abolished by computers that do the same job with the touch of a keyboard.
It lost its proud place alongside the & and the @, on a shelf higher than both the © and the ®. After a while # appeared mostly in a cameo role on touch-tone phones, a serious comedown.
But lately the pendulum has swung again. On Twitter, the home of microbloggers, the octothorpe has a new career, reborn as the “hashtag.” Tweeters use hashtags to catalogue their tweets.