Usage Determines Meaning—Ad Nauseam

Usage, ah, Usage… What a fickle goddess! No hobgoblin of little minds are you!

At the end of blog posts for the last few years (notably those of JT), bloggers have been including “Hat Tips,” little acknowledgments to other bloggers who have supplied the author with a good link. Something like this:

HT: John Doe

A “hat tip,” of course, is a metaphor for acknowledgment. “HT: John Doe” means “I tip my hat to John Doe (for bringing this link to my attention).”

But, O Usage! What hast thou done? I just got an e-mail from a friend to whom I’d sent a link:

“I will try it! Thanks for the HT.”

Do you see what has happened? “HT” has taken on the meaning of “a tip, especially a worthwhile Internet link.” That meaning fits blog posts just fine, but it’s not the original intent of the metaphor. At this point I hesitate to call my friend’s usage of “HT” a malapropism because it struck me as quite natural. “HT,” a brand new coinage, is already shifting its meaning. Fascinating.

Mark Ward

PhD in NT; theological writer for Faithlife; former high school Bible textbook author for BJU Press; husband; father; ultimate frisbee player; member of the body of Christ.


  1. Dustin Battles on June 2, 2009 at 4:02 pm

    Do I get royalties on my quote? 😉

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