Happy Birthday Hashtag.
The symbol’s now been in use for ten years on Twitter. It’s changed the way we communicate online a lot, allowing us to condense complex messages into simple phrases, and has now spread beyond Twitter. It only took me about nine of those ten years to figure out how to use them. And even now I’m not entirely convinced I’m doing it right.
The name is an interesting one. The tag presumably comes from the world of graffiti, in which it refers to a stylized signature, this use in turn coming from the more traditional sense of tagging as in labelling.
The hash part is more curious, as most Americans will know this symbol as the number sign or pound sign. It’s long been known as the hash symbol in British English, a reference to the artistic technique of cross-hatching, which it resembles. Interestingly, pound has perhaps more historical weight, as it’s believed that the symbol is derived from ℔, the Roman symbol for a pound weight. The reason it’s not known as the pound sign in British English, is of course because of the existence of this pound sign: £.
Why use the British-English term in hashtag then? I think it’s simply because hashtag sounds much better than poundtag. If you want to be popular, you’ve got to sound good, and I’m sure that’s a large part of why hashtags have taken off.