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I live with an 11 yr. old. My 11 yr. old. Our 11 yr. old. He’s too young to use most social media, but is enmeshed in video games and knows an awful lot about memes and the web courtesy of Youtube and various gamer wikis. Recently he has begun speaking with hashtags. For example, he’ll say something like: “I got these fantastic transduction grenades in Borderlands. Hashtag: grenades-are-awesome.” Or, “Mom gave me extra dessert. Hashtag: Winning!”

‘Tis a strange thing to hear hashtags used verbally, much less out of one’s own progeny. And yet it is a fascinating use of the language. Social media’s structure and technology (smart phones, texting, etc.) encourage truncated, brief forms of expression from limiting characters to reliance on abbreviations. Add search engines to the equation and communication patterns tend to morph around quickly understood exchanges that are easy to redistribute, search, categorize, etc. Very roughly, it’s kind of like a transition from:

Speaking (cave men) –> Writing/Symbols –> Printing –> Audio/Video –> Telecommunications –> Writing/Speaking at Distance (phones/texting/e-mail) –> Becoming One’s Own Communications Hub

Living through such a rapid transition in technology and communications, one actually gets to see the language usage and patterns change (Who would have predicted that teenagers would eagerly spend much of their day writing to one another?). And now our mancub and his friends are using meta-tags orally to comment on their own speech or codify their inside jokes despite never having used these communication forms in their original manifestation. They are almost like parenthetical comments inserted into the middle of their dialogue. They communicate while simultaneously augmenting that communication with various forms of amplification, affirmation, commentary, and even plain redundancy. Common chat/text acronyms like WTF and LOL have been creeping into everyday vernacular for a while now (his classmates now use YOLO as a verb to describe activities that exemplify enjoying life to the fullest), but it’s only recently that I’ve heard hashtags orally, and they work wonderfully if one wants to quickly joke about something as it’s being said…

“No, you cannot have more game time. Hashtag: parents-just-don’t-understand.”

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