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#language #hashtag -ing it

hashtagsI used to be rather stuck up about grammar & spelling and the appropriate use of language. For many years, I taught communication skills and supported people in using words accurately for clear self expression. One example of this was helping people understand the importance of knowing the difference between a ‘thought’ and a ‘feeling’ to better express vulnerability. Saying quips like ‘I feel like you are a jerk’ is obviously not a feeling, right? It is simply a judgment. Whereas saying ‘I feel hurt’ or ‘I feel angry’ is much more transparent, risky, & vulnerable.

When I first saw hashtags, they made no sense to me. I couldn’t understand why a friend who was visiting her family in the midwest, would hashtag words like #field, #cows, #lazy. What the heck do #cows have to do with a family visit?

I consider the moment when I understood the simplicity of trending language styles to be a breakthrough in my communication skills. It was similar to being in a language class when the teacher seems to be talking jibberish. All of a sudden, words that seemed incomprehensible become clear. The words themselves start to have meaning, and the need for translation fades away.

I was reminded that words are simply symbols for an experience, they are NOT the experience. A word that has been ‘hash tagged’ is actually a more direct way of communicating a picture, a feeling or the actual experience. I imagine that it is similar to what I have heard about dolphins; there is a theory that dolphins transmit pictures to each other rather than words. In the same way, hashtags transmit a feeling, a metaphor or a visual that is a creative and direct way to get the point across.

How much easier is it to simply say #hurt #angry #getlost then it is to struggle with sentence structure? It can get really exhausting being sure to speak in a politically correct manner and to also be resourceful and responsible. Rather than ponder the right way to say something, it is refreshing to simply get to the point, skip the superlatives, say what you need to say, and move on. I find myself wanting to speak in this manner often now. #confused #buggin simply says it all, doesn’t it?

Aging myself, I am also reminded of one of my favorite Star Trek TNG episodes, ‘Darmok’. Jean Luc Picard, The Captain, encounters a species that no one can understand. It turned out that they spoke in metaphors only. For example, if someone wanted to communicate true, endless, love and devotion that you are willing to die for, they would simply say ‘Romeo & Juliet on the balcony’. Most people understand the feeling and meaning behind this classic Shakespearean reference. A more modern equivalent is when someone wants to communicate the feeling of being out of control with murderous rage they might say ‘he went postal’. This style of communication is similar to hash tagging. In order to fully understand the tag, you need to be familiar with the culture and the references that are being cited, and you also need to consider the context in which it the tag is being used.

Another way that language is changing is with popular chat acronyms.  Shortcuts such as BRB, GR8, LMAO, THX, J/K, IMHO, OMG, OMW, LML, FML all have taken on meaning and stand alone.  These letters have become so common that along with being used in text and email, I often hear people using them in spoken language.

I notice myself getting a bit riled up when people disparage the current language trends in digital communication and social media. I hear an underlying judgment and fear that somehow young people these days are less educated or that they are bastardizing the language and doing something fairly blasphemous. This is reminiscent of OUR parents’ generation loathing rock and roll and believing that it was tasteles and harmful. I feel really old when I start to judge what young people are creating rather than taking the plunge and participating myself.

If we didn’t allow our language to change, we’d all still be speaking Olde English. Alas! Thou woudst be much more careful whence you spoke and to whom.


  1. Nice post Barbara. I too am an aficionado of words and language and etymology. I too have had a bit of a chip on my shoulder, refusing to text in abbreviations and phrases. However, I see the “twitter-verse” or hashtag evolution as rather poetic. I often write best in not quite full sentences or run on sentences. I don’t care for traditional capitalization in a lot of my creative writing. Words are art. And if they are preceded by a symbol, so be it. Thanks for the thoughts.

    • Well said Marilyn! and yes, poetic!!! Words ARE art, and when I let go of the rules, and let it flow, magic happens! Thanks for the thoughts! xo

  2. #Bravo! Well said! Thanks to you, I think I’m finally getting this. It’s so simple. I had no idea. I was one if the judging masses on the other side if the hash tag fence. Perhaps I’m finally ready to dust off my seldom used Twitter account now.

    • Yea Alejandro! Join the twitterverse for sure. It is fun! #loveyou #digitalliferocks! #LOL

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