Anatomy of a Hashtag: How "#Blessed" Took Over Twitter
On Twitter, the single word "blessed" has been pressed into service as a popular hashtag, often appended to self-serving portrayals of enviable lifestyles. The overuse of "#blessed" has led to a backlash against the hashtag, and now it frequently appears in tweets sarcastically. Has "#blessed" run its course? Our own Ben Zimmer joined in a discussion about the shelf-life of hashtags on Huffington Post Live.
For background, see Jessica Bennett's New York Times article, "They Feel 'Blessed'":
Athletes and entertainers have long used “blessed” in earnest, explained the linguist Ben Zimmer. In 1977, Smokey Robinson told The Chicago Tribune that he felt “blessed” to have accomplished so much in his career; the track star Jackie Joyner-Kersee called it a “blessing” when she set a world record in the heptathlon.
Of course, blessed has long been used in religious settings. It means to be made holy; it can also serve as a kind of casual well-wishing. “I grew up in a Baptist household where everybody went to church, and I often heard ‘Have a blessed day,’ ” Ms. Jackson said.
But the overuse of the word has all but stripped it of its meaning. “Now it’s just like, ‘Strawberries are half-priced at Trader Joe’s. I feel so blessed,’ ” Ms. [Erin] Jackson said.
On Twitter, the #blessed hashtag may still prompt some genuine sentiment (“blessed to have such a supportive family behind me”) but more often than not it is blatantly self-promotional (“#blessed to be in 3rd place at the Webbys... please vote now!”), surreptitiously braggy, or just plain absurd (Tim Tebow’s Twitter bio is just the single word).
Blessed has reached such heights of overuse that tracking it has become a virtual sport. “It’s almost as if the Internet now exists simply to voyeuristically hate-read all of the ways everyone else in the world has been blessed,” said Danielle Thomson, a writer in New York. “There is literally no other word that can simultaneously inspire such animosity and rapture.”
And if you can’t be blessed yourself, you can always mock the blessed. “Caught a piece of bacon falling out of my sandwich right before it hit the ground,” the Pittsburgh comedian Davon Magwood recently tweeted. It was followed, naturally, by the punch line: “#blessed.”
Also check out Katy Waldman's Slate piece, "Hashtags Are the New Scare Quotes":
When Jessica Bennett wrote about #blessed in the New York Times, observing that the spa retreats and Fashion Week tickets that often prompt the designation are less tokens of divine favor than humblebrags, I wasn't surprised. The new bride on honeymoon at Saint Barts isn't insisting she’s blessed, at least not in the literal Saint Teresa sense. She’s trying to say she’s "blessed": sunkissed and better than you. If the hashtag halo of "something-like" or "almost-but-not-quite" implies a sort of humility here, it also plays up the artificiality of the gesture. Look at me grasping for a way to frame my achievements with grace. Make that #grace. The truly gracious hashtag artist probably wouldn’t send that tweet.
And for more on the theological implications of the "#blessed" hashtag, see Antonia Blumberg's follow-up to the HuffPost Live chat on Huffington Post Religion.