Roger Cohen, The Quest to Belong
Next year’s Thanksgiving grace.
Please don’t become a hashtag person.
Benjamin Zimmer and Charles Carson of the American Dialect Society have released Among The New Words (American Speech, Vol. 88, No. 1, Spring 2013), and which lays down the lineaments of the invention and naming of the now mainstream hashtag.
Benjamin Zimmer, Charles Carson, Among The New Words
Hashtag represented the third time in the last four years that the WoTY winner has come from the world of technology: tweet was selected for 2009 and app for 2010. The convention of the hashtag (a word or phrase pre- ceded by the hash symbol #) has, since its inception on Twitter in 2007, grown into a powerful organizer for online talk. but beyond simply keeping track of the flow of conversation, the hashtag has been applied to a multitude of other discursive functions, including self-mockery (Ben Zimmer, “#languagenerdalert: A New Tool for Self-Deprecation,” Boston Globe, Sept. 25, 2011, K2).
Befitting such a flexible conversational tool, the term hashtag itself has flourished with multiple meanings. Whereas it has typically referred to a string of characters prefixed by the hash symbol, now it often gets used for the symbol itself. And it has crept into oral use, in a spoken equivalent of the Twitter convention, as in “hashtag fail” or “hashtag Yolo.” Such oral hashtagging, while linguistically notable, does not appear destined for success if it remains a self-conscious callback to the online form. overuse for marketing purposes does little to help the term’s long-term fortunes, either: while hosting the 2013 Grammys, ll Cool j took the trend to absurd levels by using hashtag six times in 20 seconds (“i’ve been backstage reading all your tweets about hashtag Grammys… we’re going to see hashtag Carrie Underwood, hashtag jack White, hashtag Kelly Clarkson, hashtag bruno mars, and hashtag Sting”).
Hashtag also illustrates how even very new terms are prey to faulty or incomplete memories about their origins. While Chris Messina is recognized as the “hashtag godfather” for first proposing the convention in online discussions among early adopters of Twitter in August 2007, he did not come up with the term hashtag himself. Messina made the suggestion of using the hash symbol in a tweet on August 23; two days later, he followed up with a post on his FactoryCity blog in which he dubbed his creation “channel tags” or “tag channels.” Another participant in these early discussions, Stowe Boyd, tweeted his approval on August 25: “I support the hash tag convention.” After that first attributive usage, Boyd continued using the term hash tag (written as two words) on his blog on August 26. Messina and Boyd did not fully recall this sequence of events when asked about it on Twitter. Fortunately, it is possible to reconstruct such cyberhistory thanks to archived tweets and blog posts.
It’s worthwhile to note that others — like Anil Dash — did recall the sequence of events involved in the reuse of IRC chat tags in Twitter by Chris Messina, and my calling it a hashtag.
It’s also worth noting that Messina and I were involved at the time in a Twitter and blog-based discussion about membership in groups versus what I call ‘groupings’. In a post at the time, Messina specifically referenced my writings on groupings. A grouping is a collection of people that share attributes in common, like the use of a certain tag on their blog posts, or frequent a certain bar, or study a particular martial art. So the set of people that have written about ‘Hemingway’ are a grouping, or those that have tagged a photo ‘Golden Gate Bridge’. So these people form a sort of a group, but one they weren’t invited to: their own actions make them a member of the grouping.
My argument then (see Hash Tags = Twitter Groupings) was that tags in Twitter would wind up being used in the same way: an indication of the nature of the contents of the tweet. But in aggregate, everyone that uses the hashtag ‘TEDx’ are a grouping, and that self-selected identification could be an important cultural marker. And that’s pretty much what happened.
Chris was trying to suggest that tags could be used to direct tweets to specific defined groups of people (‘channels’), more like Google+ Circles than the way that hashtags are generally used. But he is the guy that started the convention, and I completely forgot that I named it, until Ben Zimmer’s research turned it up.
I also coined the term ‘microsyntax’ to represent the use of special characters, acronyms and keywords in Twitter and elsewhere as syntactic markers (like ‘#’, ‘@’, and ‘RT’), but that term hasn’t become widely used.
The Weather Channel is the one behind the naming of Nemo. It’s not a US Weather service provided name.
Brian Stelter, Winter Storm’s Name Means Very Little
Many reporters and weather experts rolled their eyes at the name, just as they did when the channel’s storm-naming plan was announced in October. The common criticism is that it is a marketing ploy. The National Weather Service seems to agree; it has advised its forecasters not to follow the channel’s lead, and a spokesman said it had never named winter storms and had no plans to do so. (The New York Times advises reporters not to use the names in storm coverage.)
But the name game was catching on, as evidenced by the government officials, news media outlets and airlines that published advisories using the name. “We’re ready for Nemo,” the Twitter account for Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York, asserted on Thursday before listing all of the snow-removal tools at the city’s disposal.
Viewers and Web users seem to be playing along, too. Nemo was one of the top nationwide trends on Twitter on Friday.
“The fact is that Twitter needs a hashtag,” said Bryan Norcross, the Weather Channel meteorologist who helped conceive the storm-naming system. The main rationale for naming, he said, is to help raise awareness about the dangers of storms.
The name Nemo in Latin means “no one” or “no man.” Mr. Norcross said that derivation, not “Finding Nemo,” was part of the inspiration for the name, along with the Jules Verne character Captain Nemo from “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.”
For the record, the channel’s next names are Orko, Plato and Q. On Friday morning, The Weather Channel declared that Orko had been born: it will affect North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska and Minnesota this weekend.
In Genesis, Jehovah gave to Adam the power to name things:
Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name.
which is a useful thing, even today, when it has lost its mystical attributes, perhaps.
But yes, today we need good short names for every event, happening, storm, battle, genocide, trend: so we can hashtag them.
Interesting that Nemo means no one, isn’t it?
In that tweet I used ‘hash tag’ but in the post referenced I didn’t. Still, I am betting this is the first use of the term ‘hash tag’.
I’ve informed Ben Zimmer of the American Dialect Society whose research suggested that a post of mine (Hash Tags = Twitter Groupings) from 26 Aug 2007 was the first use.
Note that Chris Messina was the guy proposing the use of the hash (‘#’) to precede a term to tag things — in fact these tweets and posts were part of an intense dicussion that he and I and others were involved in that week in August. Chris was exploring a way to create something like Google+ Circles, which he was calling ‘channels’, using the ‘#word’ approach derived from IRC chat. His goal was to use channels as a way to direct where tweets are sent — a group DM, or mailing list, if you will — which didn’t happen.
My thinking at the time was around what I call ‘groupings’: free form communities of people who share the characteristic of using a shared tag, like all the folks who have tagged something ‘social business’ is a fast and loose definition of the ‘social business’ community. My thinking was that the tag should indicate topical metadata about the tweet, and implicit metadata — grouping membership — about the tweet’s author. Which is pretty much how they are used today.
At any rate, interesting support for Ben’s research on ‘#hashtag’.
Thanks,@DonMacAskill, for the sleuthing.
I am feeling a bit proprietary about ‘hashtag’ these days, since Ben Zimmer of the American Dialect Society has researched the word and determined that I was the first to use it, back in 2007. As a result, I was shocked, shocked to learn that the French work police are attempting to make the French people use ‘mot-dièse’ instead.
Following a decision from the Commission Générale de Terminologie et de Néologisme, which seeks to enrich the language by finding French alternatives for anglicisms, France has moved to bar the use of “hashtag” in favor of a new Twitter term, “mot-dièse,” the Connexion reports.
On Wednesday, France announced its decision to scrap the word on the government-run website Journal Officiel, the Local reports. Though French citizens will not be required to use mot-dièse, the government will utilize the replacement term on all official documents and encourage its use in social media.
However, as many Twitter users were quick the point out, using “mot-dièse” to signify a hashtag is technically incorrect since the word “dièse” denotes the sharp sign (♯), rather than the right-leaning hashtag symbol (#).
Do they use the word ‘tag’ in French? Or some French equivalent? Should the two terms be related in an obvious way?
Although the coinage ‘hashtag’ was dubbed word of the year by the American Dialect Society (who also chronicled my role in that neologism), the folks at Dictionary.com decided hashtag was one of the worst words of 2012:
Hashtag — a Twitter symbol that has grown into an orthographic monster. What began as a “pound sign” or “number sign” and became a method for Twitter users to search tweets with common topics has morphed into the new URL. (Wondering what “URL” stands for? Watch the computer terms slideshow.) See our thorough discussion of the hashtag–and its real name–here.
I think this analysis is weak, and no surprise: Dictionary.com’s The Hot Word column doesn’t publish the name of the authors, which is always a bad sign.
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.