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Slang Origins: Hashtag History

Nowadays, every Instagram and Twitter post can be summarized its respective hashtags. However, how did the symbol for a pound become a prefix for yolo and swag? I’m Ian Kimbell, and as promised, this edition of Slang Origins will review the history of the hashtag. #history #smartereveryday

The humble beginnings of the hashtag took place in or around the fourteenth century. When the Latin culture introduced the abbreviation “lb” for libra pondo, meaning “pound weight,” it needed a symbol. It was customary for “lb” to have a horizontal bar accompanying it, called a tilde or tittle. For the next step, recall if you may that in those times, printers were not yet in every business. Therefore, scribes had to toil all day making copies of things and cramping their hands. Over time, the scribes got a bit lazy, and turned the tilded “lb” into a quick, criss cross shape that resembled today’s hashtag. An early form of this is shown below. This particular early hashtag was drawn by Sir Isaac Newton.

The pound symbol became known by many as the octothorpe, hash mark and the number sign. This symbol started to be used by technology companies in the 60s and 70s, and remained a number sign for quite a while. In 2007, everything changed.

2007 was the year that Twitter user Chris Messina posted his tweet, “how do you feel about using #(pound) for groups? As in #barcamp (msg)?” At first, nobody cared. Twitter even plain old rejected him. Said Messina, “(Twitter) told me flat out, ‘These things are for nerds. They’re never going to catch on.’” However, they did. After a while, people started using them to note groups, and Twitter made it an official thing. Much later, even Facebook adopted them. Nowadays, it’s hard to find a social media source that doesn’t use hashtags: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Google+ are all members of the hashtag community. Even the YouTube comment system uses them.

Whether as a sharp symbol in music, a pound symbol, the number sign, your favorite button on the phone, or just a social media asset, many see hashtags in everyday life. Join me next time, when we walk through the golden days of yolo. #SlangOrigins

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