In a somewhat bewildering, yet reasonable decision, the American Dialect Society named “hashtag” a word of the year 2012. While it’s probably the Twitter-originating character that’s been awarder rather than the word “hashtag” itself, the winner’s impact on contemporary culture is unassailable. Suffice it to say that Newsweek on its last printed cover included it in a phrase saying #LASTPRINTISSUE.
The hash symbol has gained its popularity on Twitter, where it is used preceding any word or phrase that the users find important or amusing and would like to share. Adding a hashtag before a word in a tweet creates a hyperlink which makes that tweet accessible to other users of Twitter.
The phenomenon of using hashtag before something that is worth attention has reportedly moved to the offline world in the US, including spoken language. It is possible to hear people saying “hashtag” to make a “snappy metacommentary on what had just been said,” explains ADS’ chair of the New Words Committee, Ben Zimmer.
Last month the Internet was struck by the rumor saying that a newborn baby was named Hashtag. In other countries, though, where Twitter is not very popular, the hashtag hype may seem a bit odd.
In the ADS’ 2012 word of the year vote, hashtag defeated the likes of YOLO (an acronym that means You Only Live Once), fiscal cliff, Gangnam style and marriage equality. Obviously, it’s not the first Internet-based word that took the honor. “Tweet” was voted word of the year 2009, while “App” got the award in 2010.
Ben Zimmer explains, that the American Dialect Society annual word of the year vote shouldn’t be treated seriously as an initiative, introducing new words into English, it’s more of a way to indicate the ongoing changes in the language in a fun and entertaining way.
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