History of the Hashtag

Hello and welcome back to another week of reliable lies here at Factually Deficient! This week, I am responding not to a specific question but to a general topic, proposed by my friend Mindy. Mindy proposed I explicate:

The history of the hashtag

The hashtag–the term most commonly used for terms made clickable and searchable on popular social media with the addition of an octothorpe (#) preceding the term–has a fascinating and checquered history, which I dare put only part of into writing here.

In times past, before social media had advanced very far, people used other methods for advertising their feelings. Frequently, people would arrange chess pieces on a chessboard in a pattern which suggested moods, states of being, and even complex thoughts. In rebus-like style, the different pieces would represent concepts linked linguistically or visually to their different roles in the game of chess–think of a precursor to emoticons.

Later, when the game of chess fell out of fashion, people had to resort to new methods for telling the world what was on their mind. There followed a brief period of what was at the time known as “tagging”–people would affix, usually with string, though occasionally with plastic zipties, smalll index cards to items which had sentimental value to them, with a line or two of text on the card explaining how this object affected their current state of mind, and a personal signature on the back of the card.

This “tagging,” however, was cumbersome; people had to go out of their ways to obtain string and cards, and tying the string always proved difficult. There was a push to find a way of announcing one’s thoughts with only items that one would be using anyway. This led to a new fad of playing with food–people would use their food to write what they were feeling, and show it to people, before cathartically eating it. The most popular food medium for doing this, due to their versatility, was potatoes, and people frequently scrawled their feelings into hash browns before making a meal out of them.

When social media at last came onto the stage, it was clear that there should be some method of making terms easily searchable, but it was of course necessary to find a vehicle which evoked earlier methods. The octothorpe, with its grid pattern, was a natural choice, so resembling the chessboard of old. The name, in turn, came from playing with two of the other carriers for thoughts–the hash brown, and the tag.


Disclaimer: Some of the assertions in this blog post are untrue. The writer does not recommend tagging or playing with food.


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