The occasional ramblings of a freelance lexicographer

Thursday, February 07, 2013


Today I used my first hashtag not on Twitter. It's a trend I've been watching and mulling over for a while, and today, it just felt right. After a walk across the park earlier, I posted the following as my Facebook status:

Just watched a squirrel in the park eating a Jaffa cake ... naturally he twirled it around in his paws nibbling the edges first, leaving the orangey bit in the middle to last! #thingsthatmakemesmile

It may not seem that earthshattering to you, and the content of the post is fairly irrelevant, but it was quite a big linguistic step for someone who thinks about language for a living!

I'm generally fairly pragmatic about language usage. It seems to me that if something works for both parties in a communication, then that's fine. It's only when it doesn't work for one side, usually the reader/listener, that it becomes a problem, such as overly informal language in a job application. I’m also pretty relaxed about new coinages. English has always been full of synonyms, so just because there’s an existing way of saying something, doesn't mean we don't "need" a new one; it’ll inevitably fill a slightly new niche (in terms of register or connotation or whatever). I do get bugged by all the fuss made about new coinages - they are not the be all and end all of language and linguistic research! But I guess that's the same in any field, it's always the sexy, quirky stuff that grabs the headlines rather than the mundane or complicated developments, which are possibly more important, but don't make such good copy.

In terms of my own language and communication, I'm not an early adopter, I'll sit and wait and observe until I've got a feel for something and figured out whether and how it’s relevant to me. It took me a while to decide how I wanted to use social media like Facebook and Twitter, but now both, to a greater or lesser extent, have settled into being part of my communicative landscape. Facebook has certainly changed the way I use language. The need to convey an idea in a concise, punchy way in a status update lends itself to looser grammar and punctuation, and I'll happily scatter smilies and random punctuation marks !?!*! (Although, to be fair, I think I've always used punctuation that way in informal letters.) I do agonize over whether to let those habits creep into other areas, like emails. It feels somehow lazy to use a shorthand when you’ve got the space to express yourself more fully, but that’s probably just a personal hang-up … communication should be easy and relaxed and natural, shouldn’t it?

I’m not sure whether the topic-heading hashtag is going to catch on as part of my communicative repertoire, but today it just seemed to capture an idea perfectly, so I suspect it may stay. Think I’m probably too old to pull off the spoken hashtag though … wouldn’t that be old-skool mutton dressed up as linguistic lamb ;)

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Blogger Karen said...

Another occassional user of the hashtag outside of Twitter here! And I did find myself writing *waves* in an email to a friend the other day. Informal, but to the point.
Something that really surprised me recently though, and which does make me feel slightly uncomfortable, is my 75-year-old mother's rather too frequent use of the phrase 'How [adjective] is that?', which just sounds wrong! #leaveittotheyoungsters

6:31 pm  
Blogger Tyson Seburn said...

I love hashtags used in the way you've done so--as an informative tidbit tagged onto the end for extra meaning. Categorisation, in all its practicality, just doesn't jive with me as much.

I am curious, however, as to what you envision a spoken hashtag to be...

7:54 pm  

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