Hashtag social media

by Colin McIntosh​

Five years ago, social media was around, but had not taken off to the extent it has today, and microblogging was just about to explode. So the terminology of Twitter and Facebook, all of which was absent from the previous edition of the Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, has now had to be added to the most recent edition and to the online dictionary.

Much of this new vocabulary is related to the verb tweet, meaning to publish on Twitter. Then there are the nouns tweet (the message) and tweeter (the person who publishes it), and the verb retweet and its abbreviation RT). Hashtag is used to identify the subject of a tweet: #WOTD, read as “hashtag word of the day”, is the daily dictionary tweet from Cambridge. If something is becoming very popular on Twitter, it is “trending”. And if you want to read someone’s tweets, you follow, or become a follower of, that person.

On sites like Facebook the emphasis is more on communicating with your network of friends. When you friend someone, you add them to your list of friends. And when you no longer want to have anything to do with them, you can defriend them, or sometimes unfriend them. You can use the site to tell your friends your status (where you are, what you are doing, what you are thinking, etc., etc., often in excruciating detail). You can show that you like something by “liking” it, but once you have gone off it you can “unlike” it. It has never been so easy to cast off people and things you once knew and enjoyed.

At the same time a new register has sprung up, with words that were previously only part of spoken language being adapted to the new written media, such as eww and meh, expressions of disgust and boredom respectively. Conversely, words that were previously only written abbreviations, like omg (oh my God) and lol (laughing out loud), have been taken up in spoken contexts:

OMG! That is so unfair!

And the new social structures surrounding social media have given rise to peeps (your people, friends, or followers), haters (people who write unpleasant things about someone or criticize his or her achievements), and trolls (people who leave intentionally annoying or hurtful messages, in order to get attention or cause trouble).

It is tempting to tell them all, in a phrase common 25 years ago but now more relevant than ever, to get a life.