Do you remember this bit with Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake?
It’s very funny and well done. But even though I enjoyed it, I couldn’t help wondering at the time what the hell was up with this “hashtag” thing.
To me, the “hashtag” symbol (#) has always been either a number sign or a pound sign, although it should not be confused with the British symbol for its currency (£), which I suppose they call the pound sign.
Apparently the term “number sign” is used primarily in Canada, while in the U.S., the symbol is usually referred to as the “pound sign” and the symbol on the telephone keypad below the number 9 is called the “pound key.”
Outside of North America, the # symbol is called the “hash sign” and the corresponding telephone key is called the “hash key.” In my experience, though, “hash,” which is short for “hashish,” is usually found inside a small pipe, generally referred to as a “hash pipe.” Mind blowing, right?
Back on point, I’ve seen people making the hashtag symbol with their hands and using the hashtag in front of words, but I really never quite got what it meant or how it was used. So I did some heavy duty research on Wikipedia.
I learned that a hashtag is a word or phrase (with no spaces) prefixed with the pound sign (or number sign or hash sign) to form a “metadata” tag. Of course, having no idea what “metadata” is, I had to look it up. I found out that metadata is “data about data.” #WTF?
I also learned that these hashtags are mostly used in unmoderated, ad hoc discussion forums, like Twitter. Any combination of characters led by a hash symbol is a hashtag, and any hashtag, if accepted by enough people, can “trend,” which apparently means attracting more individual users to a discussion. Hashtags also function as markers in order for users to find and follow other users with similar interest.
Hashtags somehow make it possible to group messages, since one can search for the hashtag and get the set of messages that contains it. I learned that a hashtag is only connected to a specific medium, like Twitter, and can’t be linked and connected to pictures or messages from different platforms, like Instragram or Facebook.
Phew, this is actually more than I ever wanted or needed to know about the simple pound sign or, as most who are younger and more hip — is “being hip” still a positive thing to be? — call it, the hashtag.
Then I got to thinking about another symbol that seems to have taken on a new, 21st century meaning: the @ sign.
Normally said aloud as the “at sign” or “at symbol,” it had been used mostly, since the introduction of email, to designate the location of an email account, like firstname.lastname@example.org.
More recently, however, and I suppose due to the popularity of Twitter, it’s also being used as a “directed to” reference, such as @Joeblow. That means you’re directing your comment to a specific person whose name appears after the at sign.
Interestingly enough, the origins of the at sign predated the internet, email, and Twitter by many centuries. The @ sign was actually invented hundreds of years ago by early monks with writer’s cramp.
In the days before the printing press, biblical texts were transcribed by hand, a laborious process that was often carried out by monks. In order to make the process a little easier, these ingenious monks developed a sort of typographical shorthand. The theory is that the compressed @ symbol allowed the monks to write the word “at” with a single stroke, rather than having to write both letters and cross the “t.” And you know how these old monks prided themselves for being efficient.
So now I finally “get” the video clip. Fallon and Justin Timberlake are doing a parody of the extreme overuse of hashtags.
I am not on Twitter and have no plans to be. But now that I’m caught up with how hashtags are used, all I can say is that clip from SNL is #veryfunny. And th@’s th@, right @loyalreaders?