Let’s talk about a symbol that has caused a lot of controversy over the past few years. It’s a symbol that has caused many a generational rift.

Let’s talk about this: “#”.

For some of you it’s a “pound sign” for others it’s a “hashtag”, and for you really smart people, its an “octothorpe”. Whatever the meaning you have for the “#” this generational and cultural rift in its meaning begs the question: How did we get here?

How did this seemingly simple symbol so quickly go from one meaning to another? And when did we see this change?

Would you have imagined it all started with Romans?

Image: Roman Justice Scales statue with hashtag symbol in clouds around it

Source: Pixaby

Today, we aim to not only leave you feeling a little more comfortable with the hashtag vs pound sign debate, but also give you a history lesson that’ll introduce you to some pretty interesting things about how and why we give words meaning.

So, without any further #nonsense from me, I will hand over this fascinating story to the amazing PBS Digital Studios channel Origin of Everything.

So where do you fall? Are you in the new generation or old generation of “#” users?

Having a good fun fact to share around the dinner table with grandma while also trying to impress your younger relatives is cool and all, but what does this constant bickering over “meaning” really say in a broader sense? The way we interpret something, the way we derive meaning from a symbol, art, a piece of literature, or some fascinating new scientific research, has less to do with pure definition and more to do with the broader cultural factors that shaped us.

The generation we grew up in, where we grew up, the languages we learned, the cultures we were influenced by, our own personal experiences, all shape our lens on the world around us. In doing so, they shape how we interpret what things “mean”.

So, perhaps the next time we find ourselves locked in some much more serious debate, we can reflect back on the much less dramatic fight about the humble hashtag. Remembering that what something means to you or I isn’t black and white, it’s influenced by a lifetime of experience.

Stay beautiful & keep laughing!

-Liesl

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Notes:

  1. “Where Does the #Hashtag Symbol Come From?” YouTube. Origin Of Everything, 26 Sept. 2017. Web. 01 Mar. 2018. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GpciEQHTTME>.

Liesl Ulrich-Verderber

COO Ever Widening Circles

Liesl is a camera-toting traveler, a global story seeker, and an aspiring—but more often floundering—yoga lover. She can be found on Instagram @Liesl.UV