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There are Two Kinds of Hashtags—Which One Do You Use Most? 

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How is language evolving on the Internet? In this series on internet linguistics, Gretchen McCulloch breaks down the latest innovations in online communication.

What's the point of a hashtag? Most reference works say that it's something like "a word or phrase preceded by a hash or pound sign (#) and used to identify messages on a specific topic." And that's certainly what you'll find if you look at Twitter's trending topics, from the frivolous like #FakeDogFacts to the political like #BlackLivesMatter to the utilitarian like #followfriday.  

But what about posts like the following? Does anyone really expect to see a bad 8th-grade glasses photo under #swag? Is #cantstopcrying going to help people looking for Les Mis reviews?

Of course not. Linguist Allison Shapp did a study of over 10,000 randomly-selected tweets and found that hashtags on Twitter come in two categories. Index hashtags are our first kind, the organizational hashtags you typically think of. Shapp found that they often contain links and were more likely to be favorited and retweeted—which makes sense, since they often refer to a real-world event. The second kind of hashtags are commentary hashtags, a social kind of hashtag that's more likely to contain other people's usernames.

Shapp also found that if a tweet contained multiple hashtags, they were more likely to be indexes (which tend to be shorter), and that index hashtags were also more likely to be integrated into the rest of the tweet, whereas commentary tended to occur at the end. And the more often someone tweeted, the more likely they were to use more commentary hashtags, although surprisingly the really frequent tweeters didn't use quite as many commentary hashtags as we'd expect.

One common style of index hashtagging, which Shapp called the "context template," looks like this:

Out of context statement in prose #context #context

For example:

Crazy in Love #beyonce #superbowl #halftime

Shapp's analysis is of Twitter, but it's easily applicable to other social networking sites that use hashtags. And since Instagram and Tumblr don't have such a short character limit, people there often use both index and commentary tags at the same time.

In this instagram post, for example, #CaturdayNiteDerpOff is an index tag (because the internet is amazing) but #JustHereForTheDerps and #GonnaGetDownAndDerpy are clearly commentary.

'Hello? Is this the #CaturdayNiteDerpOff? May I join?' #JustHereForTheDerps #GonnaGetDownAndDerpy

A photo posted by Gremlin (@gremlinthecat) on

What about when people use "hashtag ___" in speech? Well, it's not going to help people search through the airwaves to find a particular spoken utterance, so spoken "hashtags" are near-universally the commentary kind. I didn't follow people around with a voice recorder to get examples, but there's an even cooler way to demonstrate it. If you search for the word hashtag itself on twitter, you find a number of people using it without any hash mark at all to clarify that they really want you to interpret their hashtagging as commentary.

Not every hashtag falls neatly into one category or the other: index and commentary hashtags are more like two ends of a hashtag continuum. Somewhere in between is the #marketing hashtag, where #brands #hashtag #random #words that are #topical but which no one is probably searching for. And Shapp points out that hashtags sometimes start as one-off commentary hashtags but get picked up by a larger group of people and become indexes, making them difficult to classify. One common example of hashtags on this boundary are meme hashtags, such as the "problems" set—#FirstWorldProblems and #90sProblems are indexes, but people also coin one-off "X problems" hashtags as commentary on any problem characteristic of a particular group.

You could call those #hashtagproblems.

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Including Smiley Emojis in Your Work Emails Could Make You Look Incompetent
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If you’re looking to give your dry work emails some personality, sprinkling in emojis may not be the smartest strategy. As Mashable reports, smiley emojis in professional correspondences rarely convey the sentiments of warmth that were intended. But they do make the sender come across as incompetent, according to new research. For their paper titled "The Dark Side of a Smiley," researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel looked at 549 subjects from 29 countries. After reading emails related to professional matters, participants were asked to judge the "competence and warmth" of the anonymous sender. Emails that featured a smiley face were found to have a "negative effect on the perception of competence." That anti-emoji bias led readers to view the actual content of those emails as less focused and less detailed than the messages that didn’t include emojis. Previous research has shown that sending emojis to people you’re not 100 percent comfortable with is always a gamble. That’s because unlike words or facial expressions, which are usually clear in their meanings, the pictographs we shoot back and forth with our phones tend to be ambiguous. One study published last year shows that the same emoji can be interpreted as either positive or negative, depending on the smartphone platform on which it appears. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to communicate effectively without leaning on emojis to make you look human. Here are some etiquette tips for making your work emails sound clear and competent. [h/t Mashable]
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9 Sweet Old Words for Bitter Tastes and Taunts
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Whether you’re enjoying the sharp taste of an IPA or disliking some nasty words from a colleague, it’s hard not to talk about bitterness. But we could all use a few new—or old—terms for this all-too-common concept. So let’s dig into the history of English to find a few words fit to describe barbs and rhubarbs.

1. STOMACHOUS

Have you ever spoken with bile and gall? If so, you’ll understand why stomachous is also a word describing bitterness, especially bitter words and feelings. This is an angry word to describe spiteful outbursts that come when you’ve had a bellyful of something. In The Faerie Queen, Edmond Spencer used the term, describing those who, “With sterne lookes, and stomachous disdaine, Gaue signes of grudge and discontentment vaine." You can also say someone is “stomachously angry,” a level of anger requiring a handful of antacids.

2. WORMWOOD

Artemisia absinthium (wormwood) is the patron plant of bitterness, which has made wormwood synonymous with the concept. Since at least the 1500s, that has included wormwood being used as an adjective. Shakespeare used the term in this way: “Thy secret pleasure turnes to open shame ... Thy sugred tongue to bitter wormwood tast.” George Parsons Lathrop reinforced this meaning in 1895 via the bitterness of regret, describing “the wormwood memories of wrongs in the past.” Unsurprisingly, some beers are brewed with wormwood to add bitterness, like Storm Wormwood IPA.

3. BRINISH

The earliest uses of brinish are waterlogged, referring to saltiness of the sea. The term then shifted to tears and then more general bitterness. Samuel Hieron used it in his 1620 book Works: “These brinish inuectiues are vnsauory” [sic]. Nothing can ruin your day quite like brinish invective.

4. CRABBED

Crabby is a popular word for moods that are, shall we say, not reminiscent of puppies and rainbows. Crabbed has likewise been used to describe people in ways that aren’t flattering to the crab community. The Oxford English Dictionary’s etymological note is amusing: “The primary reference was to the crooked or wayward gait of the crustacean, and the contradictory, perverse, and fractious disposition which this expressed.” This led to a variety of meanings running the gamut from perverse to combative to irritable—so bitter fits right in. Since the 1400s, crabbed has sometimes referred to tastes and other things that are closer to a triple IPA than a chocolate cookie. OED examples of “crabbed supper” and “crabbed entertainment” both sound displeasing to the stomach.

5. ABSINTHIAN

This word, found in English since the 1600s, is mainly a literary term suggesting wormwood in its early uses; later, it started applying to the green alcohol that is bitter and often illegal. A 1635 couplet from poet Thomas Randolph sounds like sound dietary advice: “Best Physique then, when gall with sugar meets, Tempring Absinthian bitternesse with sweets.” A later use, from 1882 by poet Egbert Martin, makes a more spiritual recommendation: “Prayer can empty life's absinthian gall, Rest and peace and quiet wait its call.”

6. RODENT

Now here’s a bizarre, and rare, twist on a common word. Though we’re most familiar with rodents as the nasty rats digging through your garbage and the adorable hamsters spinning in a wheel, this term has occasionally been an adjective. Though later uses apply to corrosiveness and literal rodents, the earliest known example refers to bitterness. A medical example from 1633, referring to the bodily humors, shows how this odd term was used: “They offend in quality, being too hot, or too cold, or too sharp, and rodent.”

7. NIPPIT

The first uses of nippit, found in the 1500s, refer to scarcity, which may be because this is a variation of nipped. In the 1800s, the term spread to miserliness and narrow-mindedness, and from there to more general bitterness. OED examples describe “nippit words” and people who are “mean or nippit.”

8. SNELL

This marvelous word first referred to physical and mental quickness. A “snell remark” showed a quick wit. But that keenness spread to a different sort of sharpness: the severity or crispness of bitter weather. An 1822 use from Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine uses this sense: “The wintry air is snell and keen.”

9. TETRICAL

The Latinate term for bitterness and harshness of various sorts appears in José Francisco de Isla's 1772 book The History of the Famous Preacher Friar Gerund de Campazas, describing some non-sweet folks: "Some so tetrical, so cross-grained, and of so corrupt a taste." A similar meaning is shared by the also-rare terms tetric, tetricity, tetricious, and tetritude. Thankfully, there is no relation to the sweet game of Tetris.

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