To Tweet or Not to Tweet: The Lingo of Social Media and the New York Times


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The New York Times—or more specifically their standards editor Phil Corbett—has decreed that the use of the word “tweet” is no longer welcome in the pages of the famed newspaper. His reasoning?

Some social-media fans may disagree, but outside of ornithological contexts, “tweet” has not yet achieved the status of standard English. And standard English is what we should use in news articles.

Except for special effect, we try to avoid colloquialisms, neologisms and jargon. And “tweet” — as a noun or a verb, referring to messages on Twitter — is all three. Yet it has appeared 18 times in articles in the past month, in a range of sections.

As The Awl points out, Corbett makes some good arguments here. I’m a bit of a grammar nut myself, and I cringe every time someone uses the verb “tweet”—especially during a news cast. It sounds rather insipid, and completely out of context, even to me (someone who uses Twitter every single day). But at the same time, the technology is changing the lingo and try as we die-hard wordwrights might try, in the end we’re not the ones who make the decisions about phrases. To balk the majority means creating a likely rift between the audience and writer.

So: alternatives, perhaps? “Chirp” sounds lame. And, honestly it’s a little difficult for me to think of anything else other than “tweet” at this point. I think that Corbett—however well intended and dead-on about the lingo he is—is fighting a losing battle. That is, assuming that Twitter stays around for another decade. As much as I love Twitter, I’m just not sure it’ll have the staying power of something as game-changing as email (as Corbett discusses in his guidelines). So maybe this entire argument is just, well, for the birds.

How about you? Do you cringe at the word “tweet” like I do in journalism? Can you offer any better suggestions? Or is this just a fruitless argument?

(Photo CC: by Matt Hamm)





10 Responses to To Tweet or Not to Tweet: The Lingo of Social Media and the New York Times

  1. “Except for special effect, we try to avoid colloquialisms, neologisms and jargon.”

    It seems a pointless argument to me. Half the words in the words in the Oxford English Dictionary were one of these, or derived from one of these, at some point. It’s only a matter of time until web ‘lingo’ is adopted – much like the words ‘fans’ and ‘lingo’ which began as colloquial abbreviations and are now in the standard Oxford English Dictionary.

    If Mr Corbett is such a stickler for the rules perhaps he shouldn’t be starting sentences with conjunctions either.

  2. "Except for special effect, we try to avoid colloquialisms, neologisms and jargon."

    It seems a pointless argument to me. Half the words in the words in the Oxford English Dictionary were one of these, or derived from one of these, at some point. It's only a matter of time until web 'lingo' is adopted – much like the words 'fans' and 'lingo' which began as colloquial abbreviations and are now in the standard Oxford English Dictionary.

    If Mr Corbett is such a stickler for the rules perhaps he shouldn't be starting sentences with conjunctions either.

  3. Newspaper journalism has been butchering language for centuries.

    Journalists should just accept that newer forms of media are going to do the same.

  4. Newspaper journalism has been butchering language for centuries.

    Journalists should just accept that newer forms of media are going to do the same.

  5. I think “tweeting” is nearing the point where it is generally understood. Once it is generally understood, it should be fine to use as a mainstay. That is the transition from slang to normal use. once it’s a normal word, we’ll find another word and turn it into our slang. So the cycle of kids trying to be different from their parents continues. Whoop-de-doo.

  6. I think "tweeting" is nearing the point where it is generally understood. Once it is generally understood, it should be fine to use as a mainstay. That is the transition from slang to normal use. once it's a normal word, we'll find another word and turn it into our slang. So the cycle of kids trying to be different from their parents continues. Whoop-de-doo.

  7. I still find it a little uncomfortable to use and prefer the (more longwinded) “post on Twitter” or “wrote on Twitter”. It’s not so much stuffiness as a fear that to some eyes, particularly in non-tech media, “tweet” puts too much attention on the medium rather than the message and risks the reader assuming the post itself is unimportant/worthless just because some other posts on Twitter are indeed simply trivial.

  8. I still find it a little uncomfortable to use and prefer the (more longwinded) "post on Twitter" or "wrote on Twitter". It's not so much stuffiness as a fear that to some eyes, particularly in non-tech media, "tweet" puts too much attention on the medium rather than the message and risks the reader assuming the post itself is unimportant/worthless just because some other posts on Twitter are indeed simply trivial.

  9. Hell no, I don’t! I cringe when the talking heads say “twittered.” The verb is “tweet.” Tweet is a perfectly valid verb. Birds tweet. We’ve been saying that for years. What’s wrong with humans tweeting too? It’s not a new word.

    Likewise, the verb for posting a status update on Identi.ca is dented.

  10. Hell no, I don't! I cringe when the talking heads say "twittered." The verb is "tweet." Tweet is a perfectly valid verb. Birds tweet. We've been saying that for years. What's wrong with humans tweeting too? It's not a new word.

    Likewise, the verb for posting a status update on Identi.ca is dented.