The Word Of The Year Is a #Hashtag

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 width=The American Dialect Society, founded in 1889, is dedicated to the study of the English language as practiced in North America, and of the other languages or dialects that influence it (or are influenced by it). Its website describes its membership as including “academics and amateurs, professors and students, professionals and dilettantes, teachers and writers, undergraduates and graduates.”

Each year since 1990, the group has anointed a Word of the Year to illustrate that “language change is normal, ongoing and entertaining.” This is said to be the oldest continuous such effort, and the only one unaffiliated with a dictionary publisher or other commercial enterprise.

This not a fusty group looking backward in nostalgia. The requirements for word of the year are that a word be:

  • New or newly popular in (the last year)
  • Widely or prominently used in (the last year)
  • Indicative or reflective of the popular discourse

Multi-word compounds or phrases that act as single lexical items are eligible. Words are first chosen in categories, which include most useful, most creative, most unnecessary, most outrageous, most euphemistic, most likely to succeed, and least likely to succeed. (See this page to read about category winners.) The winners tend to reflect the zeitgeist at large: In 2009, the word of the year was “Tweet.” In 2010, it was “app.” In 2010, the word of the decade was “google.” (And in 2008 the WOTY was “bailout”; in 2007 “subprime”; in 2006 “Plutoed”; in 2005 it was “truthiness”. Read the whole list.)

 In 2012, ADS members determined that “hashtag” was the word of the year. Hashtags continued to become more mainstream,  and in 2014 they decided to add a new category: Most Notable Hashtag. After #blacklivesmatter won in the new category, it swept to victory as the overall winner as well. For the very first time, [inlinetweet prefix=”For the first time” tweeter=”@ActOnSoftware” suffix=”]in 2014, The Word of the Year was an actual hashtag[/inlinetweet]:

“While #blacklivesmatter may not fit the traditional definition of a word, it demonstrates how powerfully a hashtag can convey a succinct social message,” said Ben Zimmer, the chairman of the Society’s new words committee (and also a language columnist for the Wall Street Journal). “Language scholars are paying attention to the innovative linguistic force of hashtags.” (Zimmer is also the executive editor of Maybe we should ask him if “vocabularista” is a word.) Note: You don’t need to be a member of the Society to nominate a word. Members of the pubic can submit words for consideration here:

The takeaway?

Hashtags are important to our culture.

And that makes them important to marketing too. With a hashtag you can sigh or shout, beckon or betray, compel, confuse, or clarify. Since marketers are all about that beckoning-clarifying-and-compelling business, let’s take a look at choosing, cultivating, and making the most of hashtags. We recently did a three-part series on hashtags that will take you from the basics to the sophisticated.

Start here:

How to Know Which Hashtags to Use in Your Social Media Posts

Learn how to find and test the perfect hashtag, and notes on localization. Learn why, when (and how) to use RiteTag, Hashtagify.Me and Topsy. Read the post.


Then drill down into Twitter hashtag sophistications:

How to Use Hashtags on Twitter With #Confidence

All about brand and campaign hashtags; product, event, and lifestyle hashtags; trending and niche hashtags; and how to boost hashtags. Read the post.

Social network hashtag

And finally, check out:

Tips and Tricks for Using Hashtags on Social Media Sites

If you’ve been limiting your hashtag use to Twitter, it’s definitely time to step out. There are nine other networks that let you search and sort information by hashtags. Read this post.

9 networks use hashtags10things-marketers-twitter_thumbReady to go beyond hashtags? We’ve got a stellar collection of strategies and tactics to help you succeed in using Twitter for your business. Check out the eBook “10 Things Marketers Should be Doing on Twitter.”