Here a #, There a #, Everywhere a #

As a language lover, I have an irrepressible tendency to not only read the seventy million updates that wend their way across my screen whenever I log into a social networking site but to also ponder the language in said seventy million updates. (Geeky, I know, but really, I can’t stop myself.)

The thing that’s caught my attention lately is hashtags—those ubiquitous # signs followed by a keyword or phrase that people can click on to see posts in similar categories. Sure, hashtags have always been present on Twitter. But has anyone else noticed them popping up on Facebook and other networking sites with increasing frequency, in spite of the fact that they don’t actually link to anything?

Example (made up): “I WAS going to vacuum the living room tonight, but instead I’m in my pajamas eating a giant bag of kettle corn and catching a Modern Family marathon on Hulu. #tuesdaynightindulgence”

Not only that, but all of a sudden everyone’s speaking in hashtags now.

Example (again, not from real life): “This navigation software on my phone is so messed up! I tried to get directions to Pizza Lucé in Uptown and it took me to a pizza place in St. Paul instead. Hashtag, first-world prob.”

Now, some of my fellow language lovers might despair that all these hashtags are a sure sign English is headed down the tubes. But as I’ve touched on before, I love how language evolves over time and I’m fascinated by language trends. I think tools such as hashtags let us express ourselves in ways that more traditional language can’t. So even if a hashtag doesn’t link to anything, even if it doesn’t serve a purpose the same way it would on Twitter, count me as a fan of “hashtag creep.” It gives us just one more way of saying what we want to say and of acknowledging our kinship as citizens of the digital world. #ilovehashtags

5 thoughts on “Here a #, There a #, Everywhere a #

  1. Anna Cavallo

    Sara, this article ( discusses the growing use of hashtags in teen speech–Patricia pointed me to it last month, and it's fascinating! About a year ago I remember explaining to my mom that, while hashtags started on Twitter with an actual organizational purpose, they've morphed into more of a commentary or marker of sarcasm, as in, “file this under…” I love language change!

  2. Sara Hoffmann

    Thank you for the article, Anna! Language change really is fascinating, isn't it? Linguistics expert that you are, I knew you'd be every bit as into this kind of thing as I am!

  3. Patricia Stockland

    I love the hashtag conversation here! This is such a fascinating evolution in our language; I can't help but wonder if the growing trend of using them as both commentary and scarcasm will devolve their strength as organizational tools. Great post to ponder.

  4. Sara Hoffmann

    Excellent food for thought, Patricia. It does seem that hashtags have become less and less about organization as they've become more and more about self-expression. As with most things related to our “living language,” only time will tell what the hashtag's main purpose will be going forward. Thanks for weighing in!

Comments are closed