Monday’s Merriam-Webster word of the day was hashtag. Few other elements of social media have endured the same ire and satire. I’m sure many eyes rolled with the #ashtag selfies from this past Ash Wednesday. And Jimmy Fallon has poked fun at them with major celebrities. In both instances, I found myself laughing, but I didn’t know why.
Indeed, the octothorpe, relabeled and retrofitted for new media, has broken beyond the realm of the phone. In its new place, it has had some helpful uses. The hastag organizes the flood of rapid-fire information on Twitter. Revolutionaries and activists in the Arab Spring used it, and for journalists, it lets their observations climb above the noise and sail alongside other “trending” news and topics. And, as with any creative use of language, a well-used hashtag can trigger a laugh or a smile.
So why the scorn and parody? To me, I think it’s the growth pangs from a new mode of speaking entering our lexicon. We’re still learning how to use the hashtag, and as with any piece of literacy, open use creates some strange, comical combinations and incurs the skepticism of tradition.