I was involved in a twitter thread today with Ben Zimmer, who is a well-known lexicographer, and chair of the New Words Committee of the American Dialect Society. He has been researching the Twitter hashtag, which was recently selected as Word Of The Year:
In its 23rd annual words of the year vote, the American Dialect Society voted “hashtag” as the word of the year for 2012. Hashtag refers to the practice used on Twitter for marking topics or making commentary by means of a hash symbol (#) followed by a word or phrase.
Presiding at the Jan. 4 voting session were ADS Executive Secretary Allan Metcalf of MacMurray College, and Ben Zimmer, chair of the New Words Committee of the American Dialect Society and executive producer of the Visual Thesaurus and Vocabulary.com. Zimmer is also a language columnist for the Boston Globe.
“This was the year when the hashtag became a ubiquitous phenomenon in online talk,” Zimmer said. “In the Twittersphere and elsewhere, hashtags have created instant social trends, spreading bite-sized viral messages on topics ranging from politics to pop culture.”
Word of the Year is interpreted in its broader sense as “vocabulary item” — not just words but phrases. The words or phrases do not have to be brand-new, but they have to be newly prominent or notable in the past year. The vote is the longest-running such vote anywhere, the only one not tied to commercial interests, and the word-of-the-year event up to which all others lead. It is fully informed by the members’ expertise in the study of words, but it is far from a solemn occasion. Members in the 124-year-old organization include linguists, lexicographers, etymologists, grammarians, historians, researchers, writers, editors, students, and independent scholars. In conducting the vote, they act in fun and do not pretend to be officially inducting words into the English language. Instead they are highlighting that language change is normal, ongoing, and entertaining.
One interesting wrinkle is that Zimmer contends that I was the first to use the term ‘hashtag’ back in a post on 26 August 2007. My use was a response to Chris Messina’s proposal for so-called Twitter ‘channels’, which had the form of hashtags today (like ‘#hashtag’), but apparently I was the first to use the term hashtag to denote them. I also coined the term ‘microsyntax’ to represent the developing use of symbols — like ‘@mentions’, ‘#hashtags’, ‘RT”, ‘$ticker’ — in Twitter and related apps. (I still haven’t been successful in getting ‘/geotags’ implemented.)
I didn’t even have that post up on my blog. I moved my blog several times since 2007, from Typepad (where it was called /Message), to Squarespace, and then to Tumblr. And I hadn’t reposted all the older posts, since it has to be done manually. I reposted that piece today, copying the text from the Wayback Machine.