Lesson 8: #sayitwithhashtags

I have blogged before about wordiness (Lesson 4: https://writerscrampblog.wordpress.com/2010/04/20/lesson-4-this-is-about-possibly-writing-some-sort-ofwordy-kind-of-sentences/) I think a lot about how to write better, say more, but with less. Brevity does not come naturally to me. I used to get more stressed out about short writing assignments than long ones because I’d have to spend so much time editing, but now I take a sort of pained pleasure in cutting away the fat, recasting wordy winding sentences into pert punchy prose that makes me sound really polished.

Any decent poet or reader of poetry can attest to the power of a few words. Twitter forces this on us all, too. Only 140 characters are allowed per tweet, and I must whittle down my classically long sentences word by word, adverb by adverb, trimming it to the essentials.

Today, I ran across a blog post from author Susan Orlean which illustrates the concept nicely through a medium I never considered–Twitter. Her New Yorker blog post for June 29, 2010, illustrates how to create layers of meaning with a few clever words preceded by what is known in Twitter Grammar (twammer, if you will) as the hash tag.

For those not familiar with the concept, a hash tag is a word or statement preceded by a # symbol. A hash tag often marks a category, topic, or theme.  (It’s use is similar to that of the blog/web search tool tag, or to the more outdated keyword  or buzzword.) For instance, I used the hash tag #collaborativepoetry to mark a tweet about Collaborative Poetry project I staged at the Fremont Fair. Used in this way, the tag serves as search category and will find other tweets that are posting about similar things. If you were to look up #WorldCup, you’d find thousands of tweets from people all over the world who are talking about the soccer games in South Africa.  

Orlean, however, explains that there are more literarily innovative ways to utilize the hash tag and gives this example:  

For instance, if you wanted to make a comment about Sarah Palin, you could include her name in the tweet, or you could make the comment and follow it with her name marked by hashtag. That is, you could tweet,

“I would rather have a moose for President than Sarah Palin!”

Or, making good use of a hashtag,

“I would rather have a moose for President! #SarahPalin”.

The tweet with the hashtag was more likely to come up in a search for tweets about Sarah Palin, as well as being punchier and more exclamatory. The practice is now a Twitter standard.  


But that’s just the beginning. The hash tag can also function as an aside, a secret revealed,  a punchline, a caveat, etc. instead of simply serving as label. Orlean goes on to demonstrate how a hash tag, or series of hash tags can add layers of meaning to a simple statement.  

Another way hashtags are being deployed is as disclaimers—a more sophisticated, verbal version of the dread winking emoticon that tweens use to signify that they’re joking. For instance:

“I just made out with your husband! #kidding”

What’s even more interesting is that hashtags now sometimes comment on hashtags, so that the 140-character tweet ends up as layered as a birthday cake; i.e.:

“I just made out with your husband! #kidding #hewishes #likeIwouldadmititanyway” 


Far from the world of academia, work, and the traditional literary genres, Orlean demonstrates how Twitter allows us to play with language in a fresh way. You won’t find # and hash tags in the Chicago Manual of Style (yet), but they offer a new way to express yourself.

In class tomorrow, we will experiment with this new form and see where it takes us. We will start by writing 140 character lines, then edit them down by replacing the standard prose with hash-tagged notions which add dimension after dimension to the line. 

In this way, we will practice something I preach often (and practice most of the time)–#economyoflanguage.  I hope you come by to try it out. OR– email me (writerscramp1@gmail.com) your #hashtag creations, and I will post them right here on the blog! Or you can just add them as a comment. #prettyplease

**Please read the rest of Orlean’s post at  http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/susanorlean/2010/06/hash.html#entry-more#ixzz0sOwUyUQH**


About Taylor

Teacher/Writer/Word Nerd View all posts by Taylor

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