The hash sign (#) seems to be making a hash of normal English, particularly with folks on the wrong side of 30. Tweets and FB posts are now liberally sprinkled with any number of hash signs, so much so that it is getting difficult to make out the meaning.
#too #many #hashtags #meaning #getting #lost #doyougetit? Hashtags are now threatening to enter speech, and here are two hilarious examples.
- # Hashtag with Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake: every sentence has several hashtags in this sitcom
- Nayak 2, a spoof on upcoming Indian politician Kejriwal: innovative use of hashtag at 4 min 30 sec in this film
Hilarity notwithstanding, such examples are rare exceptions. Hash-tagging in speech sounds stupid, unless you are an outstanding comic.
So where did this humble sign come from and how has it risen to a position where it threatens to upend the English language?
The symbol first appeared on push-button telephones in the 1960′s, along with the asterisk. Another rarely used name for the hash sign is octothorpe. The origins of the term ‘octothorpe‘ are quite interesting and worth a read if you have a few spare minutes.
In American English the hash sign has generally meant pound (lb.) and in English it means number (# 1 = number 1). In August 2007 open-source advocate Chris Messina proposed using the hash symbol to tag topics on Twitter. Also in August 2007, web anthropologist Stowe Boyd is credited with coining the term hashtag. Beginning July 2009 Twitter began to hyperlink hashtags in tweets. In 2010 Twitter introduced “Trending Topics” and the world (or the English language) has never quite been the same.
I have nothing against the hashtag, if used correctly. And how exactly should the hashtag be used? Here’s a primer from Mashable. Happy hash-tagging!