Hashtags seep into everyday language

Character made popular by Twitter becomes ubiquitous

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MINNEAPOLIS -- Heard in the high school hallway: #.

No, that's not pronounced "pound" or "number." Try "hashtag."

The character so ubiquitous on the social media website Twitter, first as an organizing tool and then as a way to add commentary to short posts, has made the leap to everyday speech, especially among teens.

"In the last six months, it's gotten really popular to speak in hashtags," said Megan Skelly, a senior at Lakeville North High School. "It's kinda funny."

For example?

"Let's say somebody got mad at you for something you aren't sorry for," said Mikayla Lonergan, a Lakeville North sophomore. "Whatever. Hashtag, sorry not sorry."

Her friends offer other examples: Quote something profound? "Hashtag, truth." Flirting with that cute classmate? "Hashtag, I can't date you if … (insert silly qualifier)."

Odd as it may sound, linguists say it's nothing new.

"This is the kind of thing we do with language. We take things from one context and put it in another," said Naomi Baron, author of "Always On: Language in an Online and Mobile World" and a professor at American University. "It's a way of being cute."

Acronyms from instant messaging and texting build off abbreviations from previous eras.

In a sense, RSVP and AWOL paved the way for OMG and BFF. In the case of LOL, the meaning has changed over time from "lots of love" to "laugh out loud." It's a small leap from there to speaking in hashtags.

While the shortened phrases, written or spoken, may start with a niche of the population, it doesn't take long for them to spread in a digital age.

Baron points to colleagues in their 50s, 60s and 70s who toss out BRB (as in "be right back").

"We do this because we're social animals, as well as being people who should act our age," Baron said. "You hear these things, why not use them?"

As hashtags become more commonly known, the trendiest make the jump to speech.

"You'd never really say one that isn't popular, because then people wouldn't get it," said Kendall Huber, a Lakeville North sophomore.

It's also possible to use hashtag lingo without uttering the word "hashtag."

As in: "I can't find a wireless connection . (pause) First-world prob(lem)."

Translation: Yes, I know I'm whining about an inconvenience in a generally well-off country.