published: Wednesday, April 10, 2013
Hash tag or number sign?
Since forever # has been understood as the symbol for "number." Recently however, some of the Internet gadgeteers have decided that it now stands for "hash tag", a device to call one's attention to a particular word or phrase in a sentence, presumably to highlight its importance.
Just why this has become necessary is somewhat unclear. Formerly, this was achieved by the adroit use of sentence structure and the rules of grammar. A long time ago I had a sign on my desk that read "eschew obfuscation," but it received less than lukewarm response at best so I disposed of it.
Now, in pursuit of making the point, underlining, exclamation marks and the like having proved insufficient, we now must "hash tag." Readers encountering the # must immediately raise their attention level and observe that what follows is the critical point.
In my view this "innovation" is about as useful as the use of the inverted question mark in Spanish, a caveat that a question follows.
Moreover one must now distinguish whether # means "number" or "hash tag," hence a potential for ambiguity is created. In the service of appearing "hip" or "with it" some politicians are using # on signs on speakers podium, (indicating the speaker is important ?) or are verbally saying hash tag in midsentence.
How this aids good communication is unclear but then I have always tried to eschew obfuscation .
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