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... one of the great comeback stories in the history of competitive punctuation
December 7, 2010 8:16 PM   Subscribe

This year GQ magazine, a major arbiter of the cool, has anointed # "symbol of the year." GQ explains: "Hashtags have changed the way we think, communicate, process information. # is everywhere." What we have here is one of the great comeback stories in the history of competitive punctuation. Today, &, © and ® have been left in the dust (of course@retains its status in email).
posted by octothorpe (124 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
YOURE BIASED
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:18 PM on December 7, 2010 [15 favorites]


Ye Gods, in exactly which universe GQ is a 'major arbiter of the cool'?
posted by unSane at 8:18 PM on December 7, 2010 [24 favorites]


#sigh
posted by Rinku at 8:19 PM on December 7, 2010


Today, &, © and ® have been left in the dust

.
posted by BozoBurgerBonanza at 8:19 PM on December 7, 2010 [13 favorites]


Whither the interrobang‽
posted by Bromius at 8:20 PM on December 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


Somebody call me when MOMA acquires the #
posted by .kobayashi. at 8:21 PM on December 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


I can't decide if this is eponysterical or if I should flag it as a self-link.
posted by Ufez Jones at 8:21 PM on December 7, 2010 [31 favorites]


I was taught to call that a "pound sign". Hashtag? Whazzat?
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 8:22 PM on December 7, 2010


NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO
posted by shakespeherian at 8:23 PM on December 7, 2010


(of course@retains its status in email)

But use it on Metafilter and I will fucking cut you.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 8:23 PM on December 7, 2010 [15 favorites]


#BARF
posted by Existential Dread at 8:23 PM on December 7, 2010


This is the farthest possible thing from cool.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:24 PM on December 7, 2010


I'm sorry, nothing will ever top the hot springs symbol.

Think I'm joking?


posted by pts at 8:25 PM on December 7, 2010 [17 favorites]


I'm happy to see the hashtag get such an esteemed honor. #condomfish
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 8:26 PM on December 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


#™
posted by fleetmouse at 8:26 PM on December 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


#GYOB
posted by txsebastien at 8:26 PM on December 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm assuming we have the awesome post winner here.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:28 PM on December 7, 2010 [1 favorite]




omg earthbound
posted by danb at 8:28 PM on December 7, 2010


Meh. I'm pretty big on Twitter and I've used hashtags about twice. It's very much part of the media freindly side of Twitter, like following celebs and saving Iran, but largely irrelevant if you're chatting in a tight group.
posted by Artw at 8:28 PM on December 7, 2010


This was the right choice, and I should know; a few years back I was Time's Person of the Year!
posted by The Card Cheat at 8:28 PM on December 7, 2010 [7 favorites]


~~~~
posted by ovvl at 8:29 PM on December 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


"It lost its proud place alongside the & and the @, on a shelf higher than both the © and the ®.

Looking at my keyboard, it's right next to the @ and four keys down from the &.
posted by Existential Dread at 8:30 PM on December 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


"Who will save the octothorpe? " GQ!
posted by Marky at 8:30 PM on December 7, 2010


GQ just wants us to look sharp.
posted by adamrice at 8:31 PM on December 7, 2010 [7 favorites]


Move over # here comes
_, ,_ ∩
( ゚∀゚)彡 えーりん!えーりん!
  ⊂彡
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 8:33 PM on December 7, 2010 [5 favorites]


The hashtag has changed the way we think? Oh my no. A hashtag is just a keyword index, applied to a new medium. Gutenberg, stop the presses.
posted by Miko at 8:34 PM on December 7, 2010 [10 favorites]


I'm with Artw; I think I'm a pretty active user of Twitter and I'm pretty sure I've never once used a hashtag.

Maybe if I was at a particular event and wanted people to be able to find my messages easily, sort of tie them into that event, maybe that would make sense ... but it seems like a fairly limited use case, and given Twitter's already too-low maximum character limit, using them just reduces what you can say in each message.

Never struck me as a core feature. But then again, I see Twitter as an overgrown SMS gateway.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:37 PM on December 7, 2010


#GQislame
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 8:37 PM on December 7, 2010


It's not a hashtag...it's an octothorpe.
posted by Xoc at 8:38 PM on December 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is the farthest possible thing from cool.

Furthest, Ironmouth. Furthest.

I win
posted by shakespeherian at 8:39 PM on December 7, 2010 [5 favorites]


Why can't the rest of the world understand that a well-designed semicolon or an expertly made STOP sign is every bit as enthralling as a mint Batman first edition, an early sketch of the Jedi, or a photograph signed by Margot Kidder herself?

Let's not make unfounded assumptions. If put to the question, the world would readily agree that a good stop sign is worth an autographed Kidder headshot, maybe even one with Olivia Hussey's signature squeezed into the corner.
posted by Iridic at 8:39 PM on December 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oh jeez. Sorry, Horace. Does it count if we're using it in jest?

please dont cut me
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 8:40 PM on December 7, 2010


#♯
posted by chasing at 8:40 PM on December 7, 2010


What's Twitter?
posted by scratch at 8:48 PM on December 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


I like to believe that nerd rage over the differences between ≠ and != have changed the way we think. Or how about the punctuation combos people use to emphasize a word when they don't have HTML tags handy? Like in the sentence, "I went to the _store_ and bought me some *mink oil* that I slathered ~all over my torso~ before reading my -new issue- of GQ featuring |George Clooney| smoking a cigar on the >cover<."
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 8:50 PM on December 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


What's Twitter?

It's that thing that makes me spontaneously burp out the words 'Fuck Twitter'.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 8:53 PM on December 7, 2010 [4 favorites]


cool‽‽‽
posted by wilful at 8:55 PM on December 7, 2010


Sorry, the post was meant to be this.
posted by wilful at 8:57 PM on December 7, 2010


"Hashtags have changed the way we think, communicate, process information. # is everywhere."

I didn't know hashtags were everywhere. I thought it was a twitter thing. Like those "Budget Bond" titles I liked so much #youremember.
posted by vidur at 9:00 PM on December 7, 2010


Once considered the most pretentious magazine in the history of the world; now simply the best.
posted by pompomtom at 9:03 PM on December 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


Hashtags are useful if you want to participate in public twitter, but for those with locked accounts, not so much. Ditto the @replies and @mentions, which only people who can see your replies can see. You can't @reply to a person you're not following and have them see it if you have a locked feed. If a significant part of your twitter world is real-life folks with locked feeds, hashtags and @replies work very differently.
posted by immlass at 9:03 PM on December 7, 2010


pompomtom: "Once considered the most pretentious magazine in the history of the world"

No, you're thinking of Maximum Rock & Roll.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 9:04 PM on December 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


Bah, I was using the # back on irc, way before it made friends with Twitter and got all cool. Man, now its just some hipster symbol. I'll be hanging out with ʗ and ʖ, with the other kids.
posted by strixus at 9:06 PM on December 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


No, this is terrible! I am marking your hashtag as incorrect.

      |   |
   -----------
      | X |
   -----------
      |   |

YOUR MOVE, GQ!
posted by Throw away your common sense and get an afro! at 9:07 PM on December 7, 2010 [5 favorites]


(also I am deducting 5 points for making me read National Post)
posted by Throw away your common sense and get an afro! at 9:07 PM on December 7, 2010


And let's not forget the reason that the octothorpe is required in this context: it's because Twitter does not allow for proper separation of data and metadata. Instead of being able to populate a subject (or a to) field, you have to put that information inside the message, and then use some arbitrary markup to identify it. Ugh.
posted by Horselover Fat at 9:14 PM on December 7, 2010 [5 favorites]


It's not a hashtag...it's an octothorpe.

To me it will always be a capital 3.
posted by rhizome at 9:22 PM on December 7, 2010 [22 favorites]


      |   |
   -----------
      | X |
   -----------
      |   |
YOUR MOVE, GQ!


God, you would make a terrible Bond villain.
posted by shakespeherian at 9:23 PM on December 7, 2010 [5 favorites]


VOTE G# FOR CHORD OF THE YEAR.
posted by mintcake! at 9:27 PM on December 7, 2010


Or how about the punctuation combos people use to emphasize a word when they don't have HTML tags handy?

HTML tags are actually less versatile than roll-your-own ascii emphasis, because the latter allows for a visually meaningful distinction between emphasizing *adjacent* *words* separately and emphasizing *adjacent words* in a run, which is occasionally meaningful. If one were to use italicization, the browser might know that the two are different but between "adjacent words" and "adjacent words" there isn't much difference to the reader.

posted by kenko at 9:33 PM on December 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


How ironic that I should have failed to italicize the first sentence of the above post, which was a quotation.
posted by kenko at 9:33 PM on December 7, 2010


✈#
posted by gen at 9:37 PM on December 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm fond of using hashtags that are utterly useless but comment somehow on the tweet. #likethisone
posted by brundlefly at 9:38 PM on December 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


.
posted by special-k at 9:44 PM on December 7, 2010


VOTE G# FOR CHORD OF THE YEAR.

Next to G7, the mother of all funk chords.
posted by ovvl at 9:47 PM on December 7, 2010


God, you would make a terrible Bond villain.

It's high school career guidance all over again...
posted by Throw away your common sense and get an afro! at 9:50 PM on December 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


Wait wait wait wait. TWITTER uses "@" signs ALL THE TIME. They are possibly more prevalent than the "#". Wh..I...gah.
posted by maryr at 9:51 PM on December 7, 2010


I wish the person who wrote the bash script I now maintain thought the hash was a cool symbol. Maybe then there'd be the slightest bit of explanatory text in this jungle.

Second that for every Python script that wasn't from a tutorial site...
posted by oblio_one at 10:02 PM on December 7, 2010 [1 favorite]



posted by not_on_display at 10:04 PM on December 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


2008 ☎.
posted by delmoi at 10:06 PM on December 7, 2010 [17 favorites]


Didn't GQ already award "#" this honor in 1994, in recognition of its ability to link directly to a named anchor in a hypertext document?
posted by rh at 10:09 PM on December 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


※҉
posted by erniepan at 10:11 PM on December 7, 2010


Bah, humbug. In the long run, # as a keyword marker is going to be about as relevant to everyday life as a 1960s-era peace sign.

Hashtagging doesn't work for organizing information. People don't tag the important concepts in a tweet -- they tag the concepts that important to them. Those are usually the ones that get think will get them attention or get them involved in "important" conversations. There's a reason libraries have librarians, and it's because authors can't be trusted to do their own categorization when there's a motive for self-promotion.

And that's before you see all the obvious problems with unmoderated freeform keywording: redundancy, namespace collisions, obscure abbreviations, etc. Plus the growing Twitter trend of using hashtagging for emphasis -- apparently, # is the new boldface.

Eventually, hashtagging will get so disorganized that everyone will realize it can't be trusted as an organizing principle, and start building real search engines for Twitter.
posted by faster than a speeding bulette at 10:22 PM on December 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


I knew hashtag when he just meant "number".
posted by Aquaman at 10:57 PM on December 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


# is the waffle sign and now I am hungry.
posted by Cranberry at 10:58 PM on December 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


#tater
posted by mynameisluka at 11:00 PM on December 7, 2010


Seriously, I have been using # to make files sort at the top of the list for a very long time. To what year is GQ referring, the bandwagon jumpers.
posted by Cranberry at 11:01 PM on December 7, 2010


#worthwhilecanadianjoke
posted by chavenet at 11:03 PM on December 7, 2010


It is actually Gentlemen's monthly, nothing quarterly about it at all.
posted by hortense at 11:16 PM on December 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


ಠ_ಠ

it feels kinda... dirty... typing that here..
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:21 PM on December 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


# + ∞ = ⌘
posted by Cogito at 11:42 PM on December 7, 2010 [8 favorites]


Isn't the point of this the commentary on your own thoughts using hashtags? #OMGINSIGHTFUL

Because that really is sort of a communicative seachange. For example, I know a lot of people (including me) who will use this rhetorical technique in an email. #notaloneinthispeople
posted by zvs at 12:55 AM on December 8, 2010


Perhaps I shouldn't be surprised that GQ didn't bother searching for "history of the hashtag" online.
posted by jpf at 1:00 AM on December 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


Mauch Chunk.
posted by fixedgear at 3:40 AM on December 8, 2010


I feel a paper on the semantic naming of punctuation marks is overdue.
posted by willF at 3:43 AM on December 8, 2010 [3 favorites]


My favourite hashtags are the ones people use to do jokes on a theme, like #modernclassics (LOLita, The Gospel of Marky Mark), #lesserbooks (Treasury Island) or #wastingpreciousbreedingtime.

Of course, the best hashtag ever was #mathowielove.

But that's hardly a change in the way we process information. It's just a nifty tool that collates loosely related ideas.
posted by harriet vane at 4:05 AM on December 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


& is still cool, man!

We should bring back &c. for etcetera
posted by clvrmnky at 4:30 AM on December 8, 2010


Throw away your common sense and get an afro!: "also I am deducting 5 points for making me read National Post"

Sorry, the actual GQ article isn't online and for some reason, I felt that I needed to post this.

I actually never heard of the paper until my wife sent me this link last night. A quick search just now tells me that it's a conservative paper from Toronto owned by Conrad Black. If I'd bothered to check that last night, I might not have posted it.
posted by octothorpe at 4:50 AM on December 8, 2010


We should bring back &c. for etcetera

I end all my correspondence with either "Yours, &c." or "I Remain Your Humble Servant," but then again, I like to think of myself as an 18th century gentleman.

I'm not actually one, but I am slowly pickling my liver in port.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 4:57 AM on December 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


Today, &, © and ® have been left in the dust

© and ® have not been left in any dust, sadly.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:36 AM on December 8, 2010 [3 favorites]


All this talk of Twitter, and ColdFusion gets no love? For shame!
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 6:01 AM on December 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Is the most popular hashtag on twitter #1? cuz that would be hilarious.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 6:06 AM on December 8, 2010


I hate Twitter!
posted by QueerAngel28 at 6:11 AM on December 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


  ∆
∆  ∆

GQfags can't triforce
posted by Kwine at 6:24 AM on December 8, 2010 [5 favorites]


> Twitter does not allow for proper separation of data and metadata. Instead of being able to
> populate a subject (or a to) field, you have to put that information inside the message, and
> then use some arbitrary markup to identify it. Ugh.

/* not un-heard of */
posted by jfuller at 6:40 AM on December 8, 2010


I declare 2001 the year of the double hyphen. Try it -- you'll love it!
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:41 AM on December 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


GQ just wants us to look sharp.

Please do not forget that we're also encouraged to 'live smart.'
posted by Zerowensboring at 6:57 AM on December 8, 2010


Oh, dag, adamrice. 'Sharp' was a pun, wasn't it? Top drawer.
posted by Zerowensboring at 6:59 AM on December 8, 2010


Man the ¢ sign didn't even make the list of signs that have been left in the dust. I am so fucking underground!
posted by ND¢ at 7:03 AM on December 8, 2010 [3 favorites]


There is something very 90s about GQ, Esquire, and lad mags. I envision the people who work there as major douchebags.
posted by anniecat at 7:23 AM on December 8, 2010 [1 favorite]



posted by jedicus at 7:26 AM on December 8, 2010


GQ just wants us to look sharp.

I thought that was Joe Jackson?
posted by fixedgear at 7:26 AM on December 8, 2010


Some more favorites:

๛ (zoom in on this one; it's much more convoluted than it looks at first)

ﷺ (that one crams in صلى الله عليه وسلم)

☠ (the ol' skull & crossbones)
posted by jedicus at 7:30 AM on December 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


⚃⚂
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 7:43 AM on December 8, 2010


HTML tags are actually less versatile than roll-your-own ascii emphasis, because the latter allows for a visually meaningful distinction between emphasizing *adjacent* *words* separately and emphasizing *adjacent words* in a run, which is occasionally meaningful.

You're right! What we need are alternate blink tags that blink at different rates, that way you could tell whether the adjacent words are marked up together.
posted by XMLicious at 7:43 AM on December 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


"Hashtags have changed the way we think..."

Is that why everybody's acting so fucking stupid all of a sudden?
posted by steambadger at 7:46 AM on December 8, 2010


But use it on Metafilter and I will fucking cut you.

@Horace, You & what army? #notthebossofme
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 7:49 AM on December 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Because that really is sort of a communicative seachange. For example, I know a lot of people (including me) who will use this rhetorical technique in an email. #notaloneinthispeople

As a rhetorical technique, that already sort of existed in the retro catchprases "File under: X" or "See also: X" both of which used to be pretty common mild snark.

I generally agree with faster than a speeding bullet that hashtags aren't a perfect index. They do some things well, though they are really poorly applied for other things. The Short and Illustrious History of the Twitter Hashtag article that's linked above says "Hashtags are also “folksonomic,” meaning they give organization that is ad hoc, with no rigid structure or approval system," which gives them both their widespread social utility and their uselessness as a comprehensive index.
posted by Miko at 7:49 AM on December 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think I feel about hashtags the way a lot of people on MeFi feel about Twitter.
posted by Zozo at 7:55 AM on December 8, 2010


Where I love hashtags is at conferences. IT's completely awesome to be in a professional conference of 1000 people and have a parallel conversation going on that lets you know what's being said in the sessions you can't attend, what recurring ideas are catching people's attention, and who's meeting for drinks in the bar.
posted by Miko at 8:08 AM on December 8, 2010


#I'm #a #pretty #active #user #of #Twitter #and #I #use #the #hashtag #all #the #time.
posted by blue_beetle at 8:19 AM on December 8, 2010


GQ magazine, a major arbiter of the cool

GQ is just Patrick Bateman in magazine form, isn't it?
posted by Grangousier at 9:00 AM on December 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


A-and I remember looking at a typewriter keyboard (at least forty years ago) and seeing the @ key and asking what it was, to be told that it meant "at". So, instead of typing A-T you just press this key? No, you have to write the whole word. So what's the point of it? I asked, and my mother didn't know. It was at least twenty or twenty-five years before it began to be used generally, yet there is sat, unloved, on every typewriter I ever saw.

Now that's a punctuation coming back from obscurity.
posted by Grangousier at 9:07 AM on December 8, 2010


A-and I remember looking at a typewriter keyboard (at least forty years ago) and seeing the @ key and asking what it was, to be told that it meant "at".

Actually, it meant "each at." It was used in business to make it clear that forty widgets @ $2 meant it cost $80, not $2.

The "at" usage was introduced by computer engineers.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 9:11 AM on December 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wikipedia: At Sign
posted by Miko at 9:14 AM on December 8, 2010


I don't use twitter, but I find they serve as a good context footnote for otherwise vague posts. #Idon'tunderstandtwitter #I'mnoteven30andifeelbehindthecurve #Community #DoyouwatchCommunity? #dudeILOVECommunity #Seriouslycheckitout #Iwonderifineedmilk
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 9:18 AM on December 8, 2010


My favourite key is F#. It's got all the blacks. A lot of Irving Berlin's songs are in that key.
posted by Trochanter at 9:25 AM on December 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


GQ : checkmate.
posted by OHenryPacey at 9:55 AM on December 8, 2010


It's got all the blacks.

Hell yeah. The first melody I ever played, long before I knew what keys or chords were, was

1-2-3-5
6-5-3-2
1-2-3-5
6-5-3-2
1-2-1


on my grandfather's piano. In F#. All the black keys.

I am still grateful for that.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 10:35 AM on December 8, 2010


The 'Origin of the Hashtag' doesn't really explain how they work, though. I always assumed that they're basically like indexes -- that putting some word preceded by the "#" character tells Twitter to index the tweet under that value, because searching the content of all tweets was impractical.

But from the way that article is written, it doesn't seem like that's the case -- that Twitter may not treat it any differently, or at least didn't originally treat it differently, than any other text string. Which seems to sort of take away some of the benefit: if Twitter doesn't treat them any differently, why use the "#" symbol? Why not just use a unique character string (e.g. "MaxFunCon" instead of "#MaxFunCon") and save yourself the wasted character?
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:40 AM on December 8, 2010


Hm. Well, using the pound sign does make the text string distinctive automatically, increasing the relevance of results. In other words, you'll be guaranteed to get people intentionally participating in whatever that hashtag involves, rather than just mentioning the word or phrase offhand.
posted by Miko at 10:42 AM on December 8, 2010


#Corned beef
posted by Kabanos at 10:42 AM on December 8, 2010


Truman Figg would most heartily like to disagree with you on & being passe, thanks.

Other than that, I second everyone else who hates Twitter, and #hashtags littering the rest of the Internet when not on Twitter is just strange. But I guess that's what led to this article in the first place.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:45 AM on December 8, 2010


I was taught to call that a "pound sign"

## # ### / // # / !

You have just witnessed a violent fight which ended in tragedy for one of the people involved.
posted by quin at 11:37 AM on December 8, 2010


Plus the growing Twitter trend of using hashtagging for emphasis -- apparently, # is the new boldface.

Plus nonce or joke hashtags #amirite #youknowyouarebuddy
posted by kenko at 12:43 PM on December 8, 2010


## # ### / // # / !

You have just witnessed a violent fight which ended in tragedy for one of the people involved.


At first glance, I thought that was just perl...
posted by MysticMCJ at 1:49 PM on December 8, 2010


>Sorry, the actual GQ article isn't online

um...

I'm sure it'll be on the Punctuacon website real soon, as well as the one for Scunthorpe.
posted by chavenet at 1:53 PM on December 8, 2010


perl -cwe '## # ### / // # / !'
-e syntax OK

posted by MysticMCJ at 2:06 PM on December 8, 2010


Octothorpe desperatelyt needs to be a superhero name.
posted by MuadDib at 2:19 PM on December 8, 2010


I declare 2001 the year of the double hyphen. Try it -- you'll love it!

OK, first of all, there's no space between the double hyphen and the words before and after. Second, the double-hyphen is an abomination when there's the perfectly cromulant—and much more dashing—&mdash;
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:45 PM on December 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oops—I didn't think anyone would actually take me seriously.
posted by Devils Rancher at 7:15 PM on December 8, 2010


Double dash with spaces, Baby -- I don't always use punctuation, but when I do -- its Dos Hypenos.
posted by Trochanter at 9:42 AM on December 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


adamrice--
C sharp or you'll B flat
posted by ohshenandoah at 1:33 PM on December 9, 2010


MuadDib: "Octothorpe desperatelyt needs to be a superhero name"

I do look good in a cape.
posted by octothorpe at 3:28 PM on December 9, 2010


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