Tag, You’re It!

Tag, You’re It!

Lots of words in English collect new meanings over time and get applied in new ways. One great example is tag. Inspired by one of our favorite childhood games, we’re challenging you to a game of (word) tag! The object: tag down some of tag’s many meanings.

Up for the challenge? Each slide gives a clue about one of the ways tag is used. Head to the next page and you’ll see if you’re right. Plus, we’ll tell you a little more about how tag got to be it.

Ready to play?

A social-media savvy kid nowadays might read “World’s #1 Dad” without the “number,” but with a…


You’re probably familiar with the concept, but for those who aren’t, the hashtag—aka the pound symbol, or octothorpe, or just #—is used on Twitter (and now other social media sites) to categorize information. This makes content easier to search for members of the online community. When they find a #subject they like, they can tag along and contribute to the conversation.

The first hashtag in social-media history was used in 2007 by Chris Messina, a technology expert. He was trying to figure out a way to organize online discussions for an unconference (yes, that’s a thing. It’s an informal conference). He hashed it out, and the hashtag was born.

Ready for the next one?

In this colorful urban art form, a tag is a basic identity mark.


In graffiti, the tag is the simplest form of a graffiti artist’s name (or street name), and can include the initials of the artist’s crew name. Written in basic line script using a single-color spray paint, marker, or pen, the tag is a crucial mark of the artist’s unique identity. It’s essentially “the faith of graffiti.” Because the tag is so important, it’s a huge sign of disrespect to copy or mark over an existing tag.

Now, prepare to wince:

You’re loving a pair of sleek HiFiman headphones until you see the $1,300…

Price Tag

Ouch. We don’t like seeing these, unless they’re marked down to the LOWEST PRICE EVER (but, as much as we love deals, we hate how retailers are always screaming at us)!

This cringe- or binge-worthy scrap of paper attached to an item (the price tag) wasn’t invented until the 1800s. Before that, consumers haggled over prices, as they had done for thousands of years the world over.

Finally, in the 1870s, the founders of Macy’s and Wannamaker’s department stores decided to try fixing prices. They started clearly marking a single price for each item, which eliminated the hassle of haggling. But this wasn’t a new idea; the Quakers thought of it first!

Where will tag go next?

People often appreciate the tags that accompany pieces like Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa when they visit an…

Art Museum

Yep! The official labels alongside an artwork in a museum are sometimes called tags. Most artworks have labels with the name of the artist, the title of the artwork, the materials used, and the size (usually in that order). The tag will often include information about the artist’s bio and the techniques, themes or symbolisms of the artwork.

Aw, this next one’s too easy.

We’re attempting to play a word version of this game right now...

Tag! (The Game)

Yes! That sense of elation after managing to escape the clutches of “it”? Until you were finally tickled to the ground, panting for breath? Beautiful.

If we go way back to look for meaning here, the word tag relates to the Anglo-Saxon (and PIE) words for “touch or strike.” But you don’t need to speak a human language to play: gorillas love the hit-and-run game, even switching roles once a chased ape gets tagged as “it.”

This one’s not nearly as much fun:

You have to renew registration for these, which can be a pain!

License plate tags

Today, driving without this tag could result in a citation and a fine, depending on where you live in the US. And whether you call the little sticker on your plate a tag, or the plate itself a tag, you have one. But when cars first hopped off the assembly line, license plates didn’t exist. What?!

In 1901, New York was the first state to mandate license plates for automobiles. The tags were handcrafted by the car-owners themselves, who attached their initials to the car using leather or metal. Talk about pimp my ride.

Now for something catchy:

“The quicker picker upper” “melts in your mouth, not in your hands” and “because you’re worth it” are examples of...


We hear these guys all the time! Taglines are phrases associated with a person, group, or product. Using humor or drama, these lines are repeated over and over and become so “catchy” or memorable, we can’t let them go.

In advertising, some companies evolve their taglines. FedEx’s 1978 slogan, “When it absolutely positively has to be there overnight” is a rhythmic jingle, but a mouthful. It took at least four versions to get to its tagline today: “The world on time.” Emphasizing the global in a simple way.

Gaultier or Tarjay?

Whether you care about brand names or not, you’ll find them inside just about any piece of clothing, but especially on...

Fashion clothing

We’ve become completely brand-obsessed, and that might be indirectly thanks to labor groups in the 1900s.

These groups used tags (in and outside their clothing) kind of like the way graffiti artists do on a wall. The clothing tags showed members’ group identity and strength against oppression (in the garment industry). And the labor groups could boast the higher quality of their merchandise over the other guys’.

Today we’re used to woven, printed, and even digital labels, but with 3D-printed clothing on the rise, where will the tag go?

No time to answer! We’re throwing this at you next:

In boxing, getting hit by a punch that does noticeable damage is called...

Getting Tagged

In boxing, “getting tagged” involves feeling stunned after a blow, and likely results in a swelling of the area directly tagged. Tag him enough in the head, and your opponent will eventually get knocked out, unless the ref blows the whistle.

Now to a harmless tag (whew):

This helps keep knots in order, because a tag is the little metal or plastic piece on the end of a…


Actually, we ought to clarify that tag is the less-technical name for that little plastic fray-preventer. The more dignified designation is aglet.

Archaeologists believe we’ve been using shoelaces for at least 5,000 years. During the Neolithic and Bronze Ages, cavepeople laced with distinctive leather shoelace designs to distinguish between tribes.

Flash forward to 1790, when Englishman Harvey Kennedy first patented the shoestring. His version of the millennia-old invention was capped with the useful aglets that we know and love today.

So how did you do?

Throughout all of these tags there were a few themes...

Did you tag them all?

It’s amazing to see how one simple word has taken on so many different meanings over time.

But what’s also cool is how the concept of tag shares similar themes, even though it’s used in different ways. Themes like: contact, identity, relationships, linking things together, and forming things so that connections are easier.

Y’know, just something we thought we’d tag on.