Here’s an under-140-character musing for you: the hashtag can teach us something about gender. A male Twitter user might tag that observation with something like #linguistics, #gender, or maybe #hashtags. A female user is more likely to add something like #duh.
#Duh isn’t an inherently feminine response. It is, however, an example of an expressive hashtag—a hashtag that’s used not to tag a tweet (its original purpose), but to provide commentary. “A tag like #linguistics is meant to be searchable, to make conversation happen around a topic,” says Allison Shapp, a doctoral student in linguistics at NYU. For a study on gender differences in hashtag use, Shapp pulled together a library of tweets that included 1,633 hashtags, which she then divided into “traditional” tags (people, places, subjects, and events) and “expressive” tags (used to express feelings, tell jokes, or otherwise offer a personal take). About 59 percent of female users’ hashtags were expressive. Males’ hashtags, however, leaned dramatically in the other direction—77 percent were traditional.
The men in Shapp’s sample seem to be prioritizing function over expression—using tags to try to get their tweets seen. The women’s hashtags, by contrast, appear more playful. So while one man tweeted, “Free breakfast at #ikea,” a woman in a similar situation might joke (to borrow another tweet from Shapp’s sample), “Good morning y’all. #teamnosleep lol.”