What is a hashtag?

The definition of a hashtag

Hashtag is a relatively new word. It was first used in 2007 as a simple user based innovation (#barcamp) useful for the organisation of content on Twitter. Since then it has enjoyed a rapid spread (#sandiegofire) on Twitter, across other social media and far beyond. In 2010 ‘Trending topics’ were introduced on Twitter based on the most popular hashtags. In 2012 ‘Hashtag’ was selected as the Word of the Year by The American Dialect Society.

In the meantime it was reported by numerous, more or less serious, media outlets (Metro, People, The Sun, Daily Mail, The Guardian) that a couple called their baby Hashtag. They were also introduced on Instagram, Facebook, Google + and many more social platforms.

Twitter, on their Help Pages do not define hashtags. Instead they explain what hashtags are used for and how to use them:

A hashtag—written with a # symbol—is used to index keywords or topics on Twitter. This function was created on Twitter, and allows people to easily follow topics they are interested in.

This is followed by four points which describe the main functions and characteristics of hashtags:

  1. People use the hashtag symbol (#) before a relevant keyword or phrase in their Tweet to categorize those Tweets and help them show more easily in Twitter search.
  2. Clicking or tapping on a hashtagged word in any message shows you other Tweets that include that hashtag.
  3. Hashtags can be included anywhere in a Tweet.
  4. Hashtagged words that become very popular are often Trending Topics.
Screenshot of the definition of hashtag from Twitter [Last accessed on 28/08/2016] Available from: Twitter

Screenshot of the definition of hashtag from Twitter [Last accessed on 28/08/2016] Available from: Twitter

Dictionary definitions of hashtag:

Oxford English Dictionary (OED)

The word ‘hashtag’ was officially added to Oxford English Dictionary (OED) in 2014 – seven years after its first use. OED defined hashtag as ‘a word or phrase preceded by a hash and used to identify messages relating to a specific topic; (also) the hash symbol itself, when used in this way. Hashtags originated on, and are chiefly associated with, the social networking service Twitter.’

Screenshot of the definition of hashtag from Oxford English Dictionary [Last accessed on 28/08/206] Available from: Oxford English Dictionary

Screenshot of the definition of hashtag from Oxford English Dictionary [Last accessed on 28/08/2016] Available from: Oxford English Dictionary

The addition of hashtag to Oxford English Dictionary was immediately followed by other major dictionaries such as Merriam Webster Dictionary (MWD), the Official Scrabble Players Dictionary (OSPD), Cambridge Dictionary (CD) or dictionary.com (DC). 

Merriam-Webster’s Learner’s Dictionary (MWD)

Merriam Webster Dictionary provided two definitions of hashtag. In a simple one it was defined as ‘a word or phrase that starts with the symbol # and that briefly indicates what a message (such as a tweet) is about’. In a full definition hashtag is ‘a word or phrase preceded by the symbol # that classifies or categorizes the accompanying text (such as a tweet)’.

Screenshot of the definition of hashtag from Merriam-Webster's Learner's Dictionary [Last accessed on 28/08/206] Available from: Merriam-Webster's Learner's Dictionary

Screenshot of the definition of hashtag from Merriam-Webster’s Learner’s Dictionary [Last accessed on 28/08/2016] Available from: Merriam-Webster’s Learner’s Dictionary

The above definition was followed by ‘Did You Know?’ Section in which the following Editor’s comment was provided:

‘Social media has made the hashtag a ubiquitous part of Internet culture, starting with Twitter and expanding to other sites. Originally designed for categorizing posts, the hashtag can now be a tool for a supplementary coy or witty comment (e.g., #awkward). The word tag can mean “a word or phrase used for description or identification.” Hash is short for hash mark, a term for what we more commonly call a pound sign (and, less commonly, an octothorp). The hash in hash mark is probably an alteration of hatch, a term for the crisscrossing of lines (as when adding shading to a drawing).’ (MWD)

The first known use of Hashtag was reported as year 2008.

Screenshot of the Editor's note added to the definition of hashtag on Merriam-Webster's Learner's Dictionary [Last accessed on 28/08/206] Available from: Merriam-Webster's Learner's Dictionary

Screenshot of the Editor’s note added to the definition of hashtag on Merriam-Webster’s Learner’s Dictionary [Last accessed on 28/08/2016] Available from: Merriam-Webster’s Learner’s Dictionary

 Official Scrabble Players Dictionary (OSPD)

According to the Official Scrabble Players Dictionary (OSPD) hashtag is ‘a word or phrase, preceded by the symbol # that categorises the accompanying text’

Screenshot of the definition of hashtag from the Official Scrabble Players Dictionary [Last accessed on 28/08/206] Available from: the Official Scrabble Players Dictionary

Screenshot of the definition of hashtag from the Official Scrabble Players Dictionary [Last accessed on 28/08/2016] Available from: the Official Scrabble Players Dictionary

Cambridge Dictionary (CD)

Cambridge Dictionary defined hashtag as the symbol # on a phone or computer keyboard used on social media for describing the general subject of a Tweet or other post (= message)

Screenshot of the definition of hashtag from the Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary & Thesaurus [Last accessed on 28/08/206] Available from: the Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary & Thesaurus

Screenshot of the definition of hashtag from the Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary & Thesaurus [Last accessed on 28/08/2016] Available from: the Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary & Thesaurus

dictionary.com (DC)

Dictionary.com defined hashtag (on social-media websites) as a ‘word or phrase preceded by a hash mark (#), used within a message to identify a keyword or topic of interest and facilitate a search for it’. It also provided an example sentence to illustrate the definition:
‘The hashtag #sandiegofire was used to help coordinate an emergency response to the fire.’

Dictionary.com also defined hashtag as a verb (used with or without object): to add a hashtag to (a word, topic, or message). It was illustrated with the following sentence:
Someone on Twitter just hashtagged the film festival.

Screenshot of the definition of hashtag from dictionary.com [Last accessed on 28/08/206] Available from: dictionary.com

Screenshot of the definition of hashtag from dictionary.com [Last accessed on 28/08/2016] Available from: dictionary.com

Wikipedia

Wikipedia provides very detailed definition of hashtag:

A hashtag is a type of label or metadata tag used on social network and microblogging services which makes it easier for users to find messages with a specific theme or content. Users create and use hashtags by placing the hash character (or pound sign) # in front of a word or unspaced phrase, either in the main text of a message or at the end. Searching for that hashtag will then present each message that has been tagged with it. A hashtag archive is consequently collected into a single stream under the same hashtag.

As a reference for this definition Wikipedia uses the article about trends in Twitter hashtag applications (Chang and Iyer: 2012). In the abstract of the article authors define hashtags as ‘a unique tagging format linking Tweets to user-defined concepts.’ They also argue that ‘Twitter hashtags can assist in archiving twitter content, provide different visual representations of tweets, and permit grouping by categories and facets.’ (Chang and Iyer: 2012)

Screenshot of the definition of hashtag from Wikipedia [Last accessed on 28/08/2016] Available from: Wikipedia

Screenshot of the definition of hashtag from Wikipedia [Last accessed on 28/08/2016] Available from: Wikipedia

Google Search Engine

Google defines hashtag as a ‘word or phrase preceded by a hash sign (#), used on social media sites such as Twitter to identify messages on a specific topic.’ It also shows the history the use of hashtag word.

Screenshot of the definition of hashtag from Google Search Engine [Last accessed on 28/08/206] Available from: Googl.com

Screenshot of the definition of hashtag from Google Search Engine [Last accessed on 28/08/2016] Available from: Google.com

Bing Search Engine

Bing Search Engine defines hashtags using two definitions. The first one comes from Oxford Dictionaries, the second comes from Wikipedia. Interestingly Bing.com lists Chris Messina as the inventor of the term hashtag.

Screenshot of the definition of hashtag from Bing Search Engine [Last accessed on 28/08/2016] Available from: Bing.com

Screenshot of the definition of hashtag from Bing Search Engine [Last accessed on 28/08/2016] Available from: Bing.com

Cite this page:

Piatek, S. J. (2016) 'What is a hashtag?' in Paper Raft [Online] Available at: https://paperraft.com/2016/08/28/what-is-a-hashtag/ [Accessed [enter date]]
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One thought on “What is a hashtag?

  1. Pingback: The History of Hashtags [INFOGRAPHIC] | Paper Raft

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