Simple English ~ Nicola Prentis

Thoughts on ELT, English and whatever else comes into my head

The #grammar of #hashtags

A couple of years ago most people probably couldn’t have said off the top of their head where the # key was on their keyboard. Now, like the @ sign it appears in all sorts of places it has no business being.


It’s no surprise misuse of # and @ bugs me so much since these signs are the punctuation of social networking. And punctuation is grammar. Just as it makes my ears bleed when I hear people talking about “pronounciation” or writing “I’d of” or “describing hairless people as “bold” it makes me so !@#*$! mad when they pepper their Facebook statuses with hashtags.

Even though people know # and @ are for linking topics or people on Twitter and Instagram, the “everyone else is doing it” justification abounds.

They’re redundant – absolutely and totally without use or merit anywhere other than those sites. Would you put them in emails? Text messages?

There aren’t many real life reasons I can think of for using hashtags. But if you’re seriously, tremor inducing addicted you could start creating posts related to the following:

1) Use hashtags to denote the word “number” e.g.

Things to do today:

#1 Stop using hashtags

#2 Only use @ in front of someone’s name on Twitter since Facebook has the function of connecting to them just by typing their name correctly.

There’s no actual point doing this since the 1 and 2 stand alone as numbers and don’t need a sign indicating that a digit will follow but, then, there’s no point using them in front of anything on Facebook either so I doubt that will deter the seriously afflicted.

You could get away with this: Beethoven’s Symphony #5. But isn’t that a very ugly way to name a beautiful piece of music? However, that would just be my personal opinion rather than a clear case of use or misuse.

2) If you want to play a microscopic game of noughts and crosses.

3) You’re writing music and can’t find the correct symbol for a sharp note.

4) In some mathematical formulas that need a degree in maths to use properly, meaning the correct usage is even harder to fathom than Twitter vs Facebook so I doubt you’ll manage it.

5) In computer programming. See #4 above.

6) Get a job as a teletext subtitler where the hashtag denotes singing in the background # Ra ra ah ah ah, ga ga ooo la la #

7) Or if that’s too low brow, become a doctor and use it to mean “fracture”; a linguistics professor and use it alienate anyone outside of linguistics when showing word boundaries or strange syntax that is otherwise grammatically accurate; a copywriter to indicate  the end of a press release or errors  for correction (but not if the error is that someone has misused a hashtag or that would mean ### #) ; a chess journalist to mean checkmate; a mining engineer to stand in for “seam” or “shaft”

8) As I did in the second paragraph above. And don’t $%!#@>&! use them for anything else. Please.


11 comments on “The #grammar of #hashtags

  1. multimaniaco
    January 14, 2013

    It is also used in the USSD protocol to access certain services from you mobile phone:

  2. Nicola
    January 14, 2013

    That’s function of a hash key as opposed to it denoting something. That’s a bit different and exempt from my wrath.

  3. Nicola
    September 26, 2013

    It saddens me greatly that Facebook have allowed this.

  4. Mike Boyle
    September 26, 2013

    Well, I think Facebook has just recently made hashtags searchable, actually, although that doesn’t excuse the people who had been peppering their FB statuses with unsearchable hastags for a very long time.

    Personally, I would happily tolerate all of that if I never again had to hear a person actually SAY the word “hashtag” at the end of a sentence. “The boss walked in the room while we were making fun of her! Hashtag awkward!”

    • Nicola
      September 27, 2013

      I know, I could tweak the post but like for you, to me, the point stands. It’s still unspeakably crap even if it is now a searchable function. You, me and now Justin Timberlake so hopefully a lot of the people who think they’re cool/funny will now be too ashamed to do the verbal hashtag ever again and the written form will seep back to a tolerable level.

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  8. John wezniack
    October 28, 2015

    Actually, the is evolving in usage toward something similar to the wa particle of the Japanese language. I’m a bit unimpressed that someone who claims to be enamoured with language seems to be of the opinion that language is not invented by people. The evolution of language is a semi concious process which is far more fascinating to watch than chastise.

    • Nicola
      October 28, 2015

      I’m a bit unimpressed that someone who reads my blog doesn’t get my sense of humour.

    • Nicola
      October 28, 2015

      But also I am free to hate pointless, redundant hashtagging. That waving people towards the joke, or summarising the already concise. Shudder.

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This entry was posted on January 14, 2013 by in Thoughts and tagged , .
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