The hashtag has slowly paved its way to becoming one of the most recognizable symbols of the last decade.
The # symbol is nowadays a powerful marketing tool and best known as a hashtag, yet it used to be most widely recognized as a number, pound sign or octothorp.
The story of the # symbol begins in the mid-fourteenth century, with the introduction of the abbreviation “lb,” (from the Latin libra pondo, literally translating as ‘a pound by weight’) for the pound unit of mass.
Like many standard abbreviations of that period, “lb” was written with the addition of a horizontal bar, and in the following years, “lb” was changed to the much easier # symbol.
It was in the twentieth century that the main purpose of the number sign changed and it began referring to the designation of a number (mainly in North America), later dominating machine communication and living its life as an octothorp or hash.
A theory claims that in the early 1900s, the Teletype Corporation was the first to use the # to mean “number”, yet it is certain that the hash telephone key was introduced in the 1960s and is nowadays still a prominent way to forward confirmations through automated phone systems.
The symbol also had a prominent place on old typewriters and was carried over to computer keyboards where its glamorous history of facilitating communication in the computer age started.
In the 70s and 80s, the hash symbol found its way into different computer programming languages to highlight a special meaning, command or group assets.
In 1988, the Internet Relay Chat IRC was born – the ancestor of modern mass multi-user social communication, where the channel names were preceded by a # sign and the hash symbol was also used to label different groups and topics.
Twitter – the mother of the hashtag – was founded in March 2006. Over a year later, on August 23, 2007, following the IRC topic grouping concept, the advocate for open source software, Chris Messina was the first to propose organizing tweets using the pound sign by tweeting: “how do you feel about using # (pound) for groups. As in #barcamp [msg]?” The first hashtag, as a prefix within Twitter posts, was born.
In his second blog of the day, Messina elaborated on the idea, suggesting channel tags within status updates to give users the ability to eavesdrop on the channel and drawing up designs of what the feature could look like on Twitter. He called them “channels.” Writer Stowe Boyd was the one to propose the name “hash tags.”
A year later, the hashtag made its way from the tech crowd to the political scene, when conservative groups used the # symbol to encourage the Congress to vote on an energy bill.
In 2009, Twitter officially adopted the idea and hyperlinked to the hashtag, giving it a skyrocketing push to nowadays where our everyday life, in every aspect and far outside of Twitter, is heavily #hashtagged.
In May 2014, the Merriam Webster Dictionary added 150 new words to its data, which “reflect the growing influence technology is having on human endeavor, especially social networking.” The top spots went to crowdfunding, selfie and hashtag.
Yet the real coronation of the word hashtag came a month later, when the Oxford English Dictionary gave it a place as well, emphasizing how widespread the term has now become and defining it as: “(on social media web sites and applications) a word or phrase preceded by a hash and used to identify messages relating to a specific topic.”
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