In a recent New York Times article Ashley Parker delves into the burgeoning use of hashtags (#) both online and offline. I will be clear; I love this article. Besides being well written and sharp, the topic is incredibly fun. Ms. Parker is doing nothing less than noting the evolution of the English language and, for a writer, there is nothing quite so fascinating.
While some will bemoan the “death of the language” due to changes like this or new spelling methods deriving from texting (watch the Weiner jokes, now), this use of hashtags, I would argue, represents something entirely new.
Far from bastardizing standard spelling, this is a new addition to our language, a new symbol that carries its own meaning and isn’t derived from any of the roots of our known language. In addition, here we have something that is easier to communicate in writing than it is in spoken form. Obviously, the pound sign has been used for years, but with different meanings. But no, this is something new–now we’re not only seeing the language evolve, but also the symbols that are attached to it.
This use of the # sign is almost a metalanguage–it provides classification to what comes just before or after. I’d say that this is just the beginning; as more written electronic communication becomes closer to verbal communications, we’ll see more of these popping up, shorthanding even emoticons. Then finding their way into everyday conversation.
No one has come into my office yet and said anything like “I’m having a hashtag bad day,” but I’m looking forward it. And, I can’t help but wonder, what’s next?