ADS Word of the Year: "hashtag"

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The American Dialect Society (meeting in Boston in conjunction with the Linguistic Society of America) has chosen its Word of the Year for 2012: hashtag. The Twitter term, which has become a pervasive metalinguistic marker, beat out such contenders as YOLO, fiscal cliff, marriage equality, 47 percent, and Gangnam style. The official announcement is here, and you can read my recap of the voting here.


  1. Alex Blaze said,

    January 5, 2013 @ 10:06 am

    I do like how "marriage equality" is being recognized as a term of art, since it has little to do with what people would think of when they hear those two words together (i.e., equality within the institution of marriage) and is instead about expanding the institution of marriage.

  2. Ran Ari-Gur said,

    January 5, 2013 @ 12:31 pm

    @Alex Blaze: I'm sure that "what people would think of when they hear those two words together (i.e., equality within the institution of marriage)" will depend on the person, and on the context they hear it in. The interpretation you describe is certainly one plausible one, but I don't think that all English-speakers would automatically default to it.

  3. GeorgeW said,

    January 5, 2013 @ 3:33 pm

    What would become of this competition without Republican candidates? Don't Democrats say anything innovative?

  4. Ken Brown said,

    January 5, 2013 @ 5:06 pm

    Late to the party I think. "Hashtag" surely became ubiquitous a couple of years ago. 2012 has to be the year of "Gangnam style". Perhaps unfortunately.

  5. Rod Johnson said,

    January 5, 2013 @ 5:27 pm

    Hashtags certainly became ubiquitous a couple years ago, but this is the first year I can remember hearing people say "hashtag" as a kind of verbal punctuation mark (like "I slept through my exam, hashtag fail") (as Ben notes in his article).

  6. Dan Hemmens said,

    January 5, 2013 @ 5:33 pm

    @Alex Blaze, Ran Al-Gur

    I'm with Ran Al-Gur on this one, "equality within the institution of marriage" doesn't strike me as the default reading of "marriage equality". Honestly it doesn't even strike me as a particularly likely reading of it.

    It's not like "marriage vows" mean "vows which are made while within the institution of marriage" (like when you promise your wife you'll go to the shops), they mean "vows you make when you get married". Similarly I'd read "marriage equality" as being about equality relating to getting married, not equality relating to being married.

    Back on the subject of the WotY choice: I know "the word of the year isn't a word" is something that comes up every year, but this year it's a bit peculiar since it *is* a word ("hashtag") but that word is also the name of an orthographic symbol ("#" – or is hashtag-# technically a prefix) and a whole *class* of words (like "#whatever", "#example", or indeed "#hashtag") and it's not clear whether it's the word hashtag itself that's got the award, or the practice of hashtagging, or the hashtag symbol.

  7. Andy Averill said,

    January 5, 2013 @ 11:35 pm

    Hashtag is a safe but unexciting choice. I think fiscal cliff has a lot more zing. Granted it doesn't have much of a future (I hope).

  8. GeorgeW said,

    January 6, 2013 @ 7:23 am

    @Andy Averill: Actually, the 'cliff' component seems to have acquired a post-fiscal life. I have seen several references to various upcoming cliffs such as the "debt cliff" and "gun cliff." I have a feeling that, at least for a while, any sort of congressional deadline will be referred to as a cliff.

  9. chris y said,

    January 6, 2013 @ 8:08 am

    Hashtag is certainly an appropriate choice for Word of the Year among those listed above: it's a word; the others are all phrases, except for YOLO, which is a FLA.

  10. Ken Brown said,

    January 6, 2013 @ 8:44 am

    Anyone know why British "hash" became the accepted name for the tag, and not US "pound"? (and surely noone ever really called it an octothorpe)

  11. Stitch said,

    January 6, 2013 @ 10:57 am

    Jerry Seinfeld, not so long ago, on the future hashtag:

    I’d like to know when Tic-Tac-Toe became the Pound sign, that's what I’d like to know. Why don't they call it what it really is — “Leave your numeric message now and then press Archie’s head.”

  12. Mr Fnortner said,

    January 6, 2013 @ 2:11 pm

    @Andy Averill and GeorgeW: Maybe this will lead us to cliffgate to describe some scandal involving a precipitous event.

  13. Schroduck said,

    January 6, 2013 @ 3:51 pm

    @Ken Brown: "pound sign" seems to be out of favour in computing, probably because it's ambiguous – is a pound sign '#' or '£'? "hash sign", although it is (or was) more common in the UK, means the same thing on both sides of the Atlantic.

  14. Andy Averill said,

    January 6, 2013 @ 5:42 pm

    @chris y, it's never been a requirement that the ADS word of the year be a single word, although the last time it wasn't was in 2004 (red state, blue state, purple state). And in any event, by 2012 it's hardly newsworthy when a jargon term from the tech world enters the mainstream language. (Equally boring choices from previous years include app and tweet.)

  15. un malpaso said,

    January 6, 2013 @ 6:18 pm

    Hashtag may be a boring and conventional term by now, but I like it as Word of the Year, because not only is it a new word, it's one that refers to a linguistic element… and one that people use in a spirit of fun and creativity.
    It's nice to see that sense of language playfulness, without the usual "OMG the sky is falling because people are using strange linguistic innovations!" that we all know so well.

    Unfortunately, I'm sure there are plenty of pundits out there who have added hashtags to their list of peeves…

  16. jjoeson said,

    January 7, 2013 @ 7:01 am

    @chris y
    Those are compound words but still words. The fact that they are written apart is purely a feature of orthography instead of the language itself. All other Germanic languages write them together.

  17. mboeh said,

    January 8, 2013 @ 8:19 pm

    @Ken Brown: programmers call it 'hash', especially Unix-world programmers. I'm pretty sure the term can be traced through the Perl language, but I don't know why 'hash' was chosen instead of 'pound' — if not because of the influence of a UK-derived programmer, probably because 'pound' is more ambiguous than 'hash'.

    Twitter had early and heavy adoption by programmers, so that explains how the term got there.

    Hashtags are kind of old news by now, though… I don't see people using them nearly as frequently as they did even a year or two ago. Twitter tracks and searches on non-hashed words and phrases now. These days I mostly see hashtags used for astroturf political and commercial campaigns.

  18. Chandra said,

    January 14, 2013 @ 6:07 pm

    @GeorgeW: "What would become of this competition without Republican candidates? Don't Democrats say anything innovative?"

    'Marriage equality' is most certainly a Democratic coinage.

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