Of Hashtags and Hate-watching

Of Hashtags and Hate-watching

2013 has certainly been a big year for the hashtag. While hashtags were beginning to spread beyond the context of their original Twitter use last year, this year has seen other websites such as Facebook adopt the hashtag as a social-media tool. In January 2013, hashtag was elevated to the 2012 Word of the Year by the American Dialect Society (ADS), signaling its welcome into the English lexicon. Meanwhile in France, the General Commission for Terminology and Neology banned use of the word “hashtag” in official communications, offering up the term mot-dièse in its place.

“They started out useful and utilitarian,” said Jonah Berger, author of Contagious: Why Things Catch On, “but have evolved to this notion of being a cultural phenomenon and acting as if you are in the know… we hashtag everything now.” But hashtagging isn’t the only thing we’re doing more of these days. The ADS also nominated the term “hate-watching” for its 2012 word of the year. Although it did not ultimately win the much publicized vote, this fascinating construction was highlighted in a recent column on neologisms called “Among the New Words” in the ADS journal American Speech.

While hate-watching might not have attained hashtag’s traction in the realm of social-media and metadata tagging, its uses are far from insubstantial. The American Dialect Society website defines hate-watching as “continuing to follow a television show despite having an aversion to it.” If the significance of hate-watching stopped there, perhaps its staying power would be limited.

However, something very interesting is happening with hate-watching, and it all starts at the prefix “hate-.” As Ben Zimmer and Charles E. Carson write in “Among the New Words,” “…hate-watching has inspired all manner of other hate-verb compounds…as in hate-reading and hate-listening.” These compounds describe a situation in which a person “despises a form of entertainment but derives some sort of perverse pleasure from it.”

Zimmer and Carson suggest that this concept of “hate-doing” existed long before there was a term for it. They say it goes at least as far back as the silent-film era when actor Erich von Stroheim had the tagline “The Man You Love to Hate.” But there’s evidence of hate-doing from even before this time. In E.M. Forster’s 1908 novel A Room with a View, he has a spectacular hate-reading scene in which Cecil Vyse, the irksome fiancé of Lucy Honeychurch, picks up a book specifically to mock it. Forster writes: “…the novel that he was reading was so bad that he was obliged to read it aloud to others. He would stroll round the precincts of the court and call out: ‘I say, listen to this, Lucy. Three split infinitives.’”

It seems remiss to talk about “hate-watching” without also mentioning the concept of “binge-watching” (sometimes also called “power streaming” when referring specifically to the streaming of videos online). That is watching hours and hours of a TV show in one sitting, or in a very short period of time. Streaming services such as Netflix even encourage this tendency by releasing all the episodes in their in-house series, such as the heavily anticipated season four of Arrested Development, on the same day. Binge-watching, of course, borrows the binge- prefix from the term “binge eating.” The construction “guilty pleasure” also deserves a mention here. Hate-watching, hate-reading, or really hate-doing of any kind, can be more generally described as a “guilty pleasure.” Would people really watch agonizingly bad shows or read terrible books if they weren’t getting some sort of perverse enjoyment out of it? Maybe people are more open and proud about their hate than about their guilt, which would explain the way in which the hate- prefix has taken off in the last few years. However, this is perhaps a topic best explored by philosophers.


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