How did the hashtag become the most popular button on the keyboard?

This symbol, like so many other irritating things, was spawned by Twitter

Share

Air quotes used to be a reliable indicator of the best person to avoid at parties. You know, the guy who surrounds every other word with ironic crooked fingers because he doesn’t have a personality. David Brent loved to use air quotes. And if The Office were still on air now, I’m fairly sure that he would love to use “hashtag” in his banter. It’s an irritating verbal tic, spawned like so many irritating things – celebrity spats, selfies, Sally Bercow’s career – by Twitter. On Twitter, it is a handy way of grouping and searching for topics. Off Twitter, it is meaningless emphasis and a handy way of signalling that you’re quite annoying. Sorry, #quiteannoying.

Either way, the humble hash key, once useful only for telephone banking and Odeon booking lines, is having a moment. Hidden amid more useful punctuation on the keyboard (or on a Mac, not there at all), it is now ubiquitous as social media shorthand. If you have something to say about #Prism, for example, and want to make sure everyone (lawfully) sees it too, and then to see everyone’s posts on it – # is the key.

The idea of grouping by using # on Twitter was first trialled in 2007. Since then, it has been enthusiastically if erratically embraced. Millions now watch television with one eye on the fast spooling #theapprentice or #bbcqt feeds. Susan Boyle’s record company, on the other hand, didn’t get quite the buzz it was looking for with #susanalbumparty. Elsewhere their original function has been all but lost with hashtags used for ironic asides, marketing aids or simply trivia – #breakfast.

Now Facebook is stealing the hashtag for its site, too. It’s about sharing and connecting, it says. With advertisers, I say. It’s also a sign that hashtag is here to stay, another dubious gift to language from social media. Laughing out loud has gone from a real thing that humans do to an internet abbreviation and then back into speech as LOL. People say “sad face” to one another instead of really expressing sadness. Looked at in this context, the hashtag – a meaningless, fairly useless, often silly tool for oversharing – might just be the perfect symbol of our times.

Top point from Caroline Lucas

Femen’s bare breasts and Pussy Riot’s neon balaclavas are all very striking but sometimes simple shouts loudest. Caroline Lucas, Green MP for Brighton Pavilion, wore a T-shirt with the slogan No More Page Three during a Commons debate on media sexism this week. There was nothing flashy about it, certainly nothing to shock anyone who grew up in the 80s surrounded by Katharine Hamnett protest singlets and chests shouting Frankie Says Relax in black and white. It got Jimmy Hood, the Labour chair of the session, hot under the collar nevertheless. “Order! Order! I would ask the Honorable Member to respect the standards of dress and to put her jacket back on please”, he bleated, in a classic Weird World of Westminster moment. 

Lucas – now brandishing some Page 3 nipples which sent Hood into further panicky spasms of Order! Order! Order! - pointed out the irony that her baggy t-shirt could be taken as offensive when tabloids featuring topless young girls were on sale in eight different outlets on the parliamentary estate. Provocation, reaction, smackdown - it was a perfect piece of protest.

It also raised an intriguing question – what are these “standards of dress” that must be upheld in the House?  The only stipulation in the parliamentary rulebook is that military insignia and uniforms must not be worn, while the custom, it states, is for “gentlemen members to wear jackets and ties”. The custom for “lady members” remains a mystery. One t-shirt, two points excellently made.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

CRM Developer (MS Dynamics 2011/2013, JavaScript)

£55000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: CRM MS Dynamic...

IT Teacher

£22000 - £33000 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: ICT TeacherLeedsRandstad ...

Graduate C#.NET Developer (TDD, ASP.NET, SQL)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Graduate C#.NET Developer (TDD, ASP.NET, SQL) Su...

Junior SQL DBA (SQL Server 2012, T-SQL, SSIS) London - Finance

£30000 - £33000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Junior SQL DBA...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Richard Attenborough, who died on 25 August, attends a film premiere  

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

DJ Taylor
Women were excluded from the decision-making progress in Rotherham  

Rotherham child sexual abuse scandal - the lessons: Asian women's voices go unheard

Joan Smith
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor
She's dark, sarcastic, and bashes life in Nowheresville ... so how did Kacey Musgraves become country music's hottest new star?

Kacey Musgraves: Nashville's hottest new star

The singer has two Grammys for her first album under her belt and her celebrity fans include Willie Nelson, Ryan Adams and Katy Perry
American soldier-poet Brian Turner reveals the enduring turmoil that inspired his memoir

Soldier-poet Brian Turner on his new memoir

James Kidd meets the prize-winning writer, whose new memoir takes him back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
Aston Villa vs Hull match preview: Villa were not surprised that Ron Vlaar was a World Cup star

Villa were not surprised that Vlaar was a World Cup star

Andi Weimann reveals just how good his Dutch teammate really is
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef ekes out his holiday in Italy with divine, simple salads

Bill Granger's simple Italian salads

Our chef presents his own version of Italian dishes, taking in the flavours and produce that inspired him while he was in the country
The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

If supporters begin to close bank accounts, switch broadband suppliers or shun satellite sales, their voices will be heard. It’s time for revolution