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

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)