Friday, July 10, 2015

The Snaky Story of Hashtag

The word "hashtag" has roots in the US military. 

Sort of.

It all starts in 1907...

Enlisted men and women begin to nickname the service stripes worn on dress uniforms "hash marks."

Each stripe represents three years of dutyand untold plates of hash eaten.

Now, flash forward to 1962...

Scientists at Bell Labs add a key to the new "touch-tone" phone: the # key.

It lets callers send instructions to the phone's operating system.

They pirate a word used by mapmakers, and proudly dub the # key the "octothorpe."

An octothorpe is the mapmaker's symbol for "village" (eight fields surrounding a town square). 

"Octo," of course, means "eight;" "thorpe" means "field" in Old Norse.

But Americans already know the # key as the "pound key" from typewriters (where # means "number").

"Pound" sticks when touch-tone phones hit the market.

All along, our cousins in the UK—where "pound" refers to the symbol £—are calling # "hash."

As are computer programmers, many of whom are ex-military, and familiar with those hash marks on uniforms.

Now, flash forward to 2007...

A Silicon Valley marketer named Chris Messina sends a Tweet.

He urges everyone to use # to denote Twitter chats. 

Messina names # the “channel tag."

But Twitter's early adopters insist on calling # the "hashtag."

Finally, flash forward to 2013...

The American Dialect Society assembles in Boston to announce its prestigious "Word of the Year."

Can you guess the word?

Hint: It isn't "octothorpe."
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