Despite its primarily functional origins, the hash tag has broken out of its social media context and is a kind of colloquialism, usually intended as a joke, but utilized in just about any form of communication - even spoken, e.g. "hash tag yolo!" (shudder).

What is the meaning of this usage of a hash tag, outside of social media and incapable of performing its original function?

edit: I'm not really asking about the origin or the actual meaning of a hash tag, only this ironic new usage after being popularized by social media. Another way to phrase this question is: how can you describe to someone who has never used social media what another person means when they verbally say "hash tag yolo"?

3 Answers 3


(Since this is about colloquial usage, I hope informal examples from my own experiences are acceptable as reference)

I mostly hear/see hashtags used in real life and on online forums without hashtags as something one would hypothetically add to a social media posting about whatever is currently the topic.

e.g. someone doing something crazy in real life saying "#yolo" implies that if/when they were to post about it on social media that is how they would tag it. someone else discussing a crazy (sport/video game) play on a forum could similarly add #yolo to the end of their post for similar reasons.

I suppose it also evokes other imagery if the person reading is familiar with the hashtag, but it seems more likely to be ironic in this case. (e.g. someone who's very dressed up jokingly saying "#iwokeuplikethis"... something like that.)

  • Great explanation. To reinforce this -- it's a way some people attempt to give more wit to a sentence, by adding a succinct message, punctuation or twist to it. Aug 12, 2015 at 5:16
  • can you elaborate on the kind of irony? like mostly an exaggeration of the mundane to make it noteworthy, or some other common thread?
    – Keith
    Aug 13, 2015 at 0:26
  • 1
    In practical terms it's an act of observational distancing—in the same way that using "air quotation marks" is—to create or signal ironic distance from the chosen word or phrase, versus how that word or phrase would be understood if it were used unadorned by the descriptive punctuation.
    – Sven Yargs
    Aug 13, 2015 at 0:46

It is colloquial because it is a current trend, more so with the younger generation. It's meant to sound cute, and ironic since hashtags aren't meant to be voiced, but written rather.

The real word here is


Hash refers to the # symbol

The tag part of the phrase is the subject here. The act of tagging things (in this case, words) using the hash symbol.

Why the # hash?

Because, in social media, discourse communities, the hash symbol is not typically used, unless you're referring to something in a series of numbers and want to specify one in particular.

#9 is the winning horse

From a programming stand point, the hash was just chosen arbitrarily by whomsoever came up with the idea in the first place. The creator could have just as well had used

!@$%^&*()_+-= or more

In programming, there is something called regular expressions which allow you to capture specific words in a set of words with certain conditions.

I would like a house, or a boat, or a houseboat.

Using regular expressions, someone can extract the three options with a creatively crafted pattern that I will not go into, but for explanations sake.

Let's take this

Cookies are good #goodcookies.

Using regular expressions, one can capture the hashtag.. AND omit the period.

Sometimes at dark #inthedark aliens visit my room #aliens.

Here, a program would recognize two hashtags. The hashtags are a marketing scheme that allows businesses and individuals to receive attention, sometimes virulently.

For instance, a year ago or so, Rhett and Link had a hashtag war with Good Morning Maryland.

  • Not quite following you here... On my planet, a hash is a single mark (a tick on a list, for example) not the symbol [#] - which was commonly known as: the number or pound-sign.
    – Oldbag
    Aug 12, 2015 at 12:47
  • True, I should probably add that into my answer.
    – dockeryZ
    Aug 12, 2015 at 13:53

In some computer programming languages, the "#" symbol is used to denote that all following text is simply a comment about the instructions that appeared previous to it.

This is likely where the use of hashtag in social media has come from. I have no sources to cite on this, it is just a assumption that I have drawn.

There is an article that I just googled which backs up my programming statement... It is found on Dictionary.com regarding the pound / hash / number / octothorpe symbol.


Hope this helps.

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