Oxford University Press has chosen hashtag as its ‘children’s word of the year’ because of its significant use in the 500 Words 2015 competition.
The 500 Words competition was launched by presenter Chris Evans on the BBC Radio 2 Breakfast Show in 2011, and is for stories of 500 words or less by children aged 13 and under. Every year Oxford University Press analyses the stories children write for its competition to track changes in vocabulary.
This year, ‘hashtag’ and the symbol used to represent it - # - is the word of the year because of how often it appeared in the 120,421 entries. For example, one entry contained the passage: “She then picked it up and ran out of the cave… the cave exploded and she didn't look back at it exploding, she just kept on walking forward #supercool.”
Another had the sentence: “The only thing I knew for sure was that I was going to get eaten (#frightened!!!).”
Vineeta Gupta, head of children's dictionaries at OUP, said: “Language is constantly changing and adapting. Children are true innovators and are using the language of social media to produce some incredibly creative writing. What impresses me most is how children will blend, borrow, and invent words to powerful effect and so enrich their stories.”
Social media terms were prevalent in the entries this year and out of the top 20 words that have significantly increased in use during the past 12 months, more than half are inspired by social media. Examples include YouTube, Zoella, snapchat, selfie, vlog and blog.
OUP also noticed that the children who took part in the competition are talking more about creating rather than just watching social media posts. Many of the stories were about posting videos online and the number of views/ hits/ likes/ comments/ shares achieved.
Conversely, digital words that are falling out of favour are Facebook, e-mail, mobile, iPod, mp3 and tablet.
In terms of other subject areas, international current affairs were mentioned in the stories, so Ukraine, Syria, Malaysia Airlines, peacekeepers and particularly Ebola all featured. Popular culture terms that came up were Frozen, Paddington and One Direction, and the centenary of World War One inspired the entrants to use words such as U-boats, the Eastern Front, Tommies, shrapnel, and mustard gas.
The children also showed some adherence to gender stereotypes because girls were more likely to write about cupcakes, unicorns, marshmallows, and flowers, while boys talked more about burgers, space, cars, and farting.
Evans will announce the winners of this year’s competition on the 29th May, live from St James’ Palace in London with HRH the Duchess of Cornwall.