BBC BLOGS - dot.Maggie
« Previous | Main | Next »

To Tweet or not to Tweet?

Maggie Shiels | 10:32 UK time, Friday, 11 June 2010

Well if you work for the august institution that is the New York Times, the answer to that question is most definitely no when it comes to describing the comments posted on the microblogging service Twitter.

And that is the law as laid down by the Grey Lady's standards editor, Phil Corbett.

In a leaked memo obtained by theawl.com, Mr Corbett sets out his reasons for not using the moniker that has become accepted parlance in many a geek's every day chatter:

"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."
 
"Of course, new technology terms sprout and spread faster than ever. And we don't want to seem paleolithic. But we favor established usage and ordinary words over the latest jargon or buzzwords."

Interestingly enough, Mr Corbett also notes that while the word is bandied about by the technically savvy crowd of the day, who knows how long it will be around for.

"Someday, 'tweet' may be as common as 'e-mail'. Or another service may elbow Twitter aside next year, and 'tweet' may fade into oblivion," said Mr Corbett.

Truth be told, Mr Corbett is just not a big fan of the actual word itself.

"Of course, it doesn't help that the word itself seems so inherently silly," he wrote.

So what does Twitter have to say about the whole affair. Here is their official response, posted on Twitter natch from their head PR guy, Sean Garrett:

Screengrab from Sean Garrett's Twitter page

The link takes you to an article by Neiman Labs that looks at the 50 words that New York Times readers looked up the most. Count how many Twitter used in its reply.

Meanwhile reaction on Twitter to the whole Tweet ban gives food for thought.

@RonSupportsYou Is this NY Times decision crazy?
@AndyStettler Another "titan" thinks he can control the crowd?

There is some support for the move.

@natalidelconte: I gotta say, I support this. I hate that word.
@eric_andersen tweet is "a bit too cutesy?" I'm w/NYT, tweet is "inherently silly"

What do you think? Is it silly? Should it be banned? And what would you replace it with?

Comments

  • 1. At 1:23pm on 11 Jun 2010, Ed Syrett wrote:

    Rubbish - The word "tweet" has attained the status of common parlance in English. It has gone beyond colloquialisms, neologisms and jargon because it is so widely used across society. It is not tied to a gender, trade, job, or technology.

    Complain about this comment

  • 2. At 2:13pm on 11 Jun 2010, Bill wrote:

    I don't "tweet" "tweets" on twitter, I "post" "updates" on twitter. What's wrong with tried and tested English language?

    Complain about this comment

  • 3. At 3:21pm on 11 Jun 2010, Aidy wrote:

    I see that most people are missing the point. If the editor of the NYT doesn't want his staff using the word then that's his right, he is merely trying to uphold a certain standard of English. He isn't telling other people not to use it and he isn't implying anything regarding its validity in society...he is just saying that he doesn't want it appearing in his paper and good on him.

    Now I really must end this post with the wise words of Ralph Wiggum;

    "Me fail English? That's unpossible."

    Complain about this comment

  • 4. At 5:24pm on 11 Jun 2010, Stephen Brooks wrote:

    I'm sure this will produce plenty of interest around the internet but I think it should be emphasised that "style guidelines" for English are nothing new. I believe dictionaries and newspapers/publishers have to make decisions on this sort of thing all the time. Those decisions are necessarily a matter of taste/style and therefore always debatable.

    Complain about this comment

  • 5. At 5:38pm on 11 Jun 2010, davidcheshire wrote:

    the appropriate word is 'twit', from what I have read on twitter.

    the inconsequential nature of the fluff that appears on it is the clearest proof that "twits twit on twitter".

    I thank you.

    Complain about this comment

  • 6. At 5:46pm on 11 Jun 2010, Rabbitkiller wrote:

    The whole communications industry gets ever more infantile with the use of terms like 'tweet'. The impression it gives is of children's comic language - perhaps we await 'oww', 'burp' and 'blam' for the next instalment of nonsense. I am just amazed that there are so many otherwise sensible adults who claim to indulge in this superficial stuff; have they nothing more useful or interesting to do? What did they do before this came along? Or before home computers and mobile phones?

    Complain about this comment

  • 7. At 7:29pm on 11 Jun 2010, Dominic Dove wrote:

    Bill: What's wrong with evolving English?

    I feel the word 'tweet' to be far more effective, as it provides more information: you are posting an update using the Twitter service. It says all that in a single word.

    It never ceases to amaze me how ignorant people can be. It must hurt to be so arrogant. There is a service that other people use, and it fits well with the way they live their lives and communicate with others. Just because this doesn't apply to you doesn't make this wrong, so stop being so stupid.

    Complain about this comment

  • 8. At 7:48pm on 11 Jun 2010, Markle wrote:

    Every subculture has its jargon. Sure it may seem silly to outsiders, but tweet makes sense in the context of Twitter where brevity is king.

    Complain about this comment

  • 9. At 9:08pm on 11 Jun 2010, Rabbitkiller wrote:

    Post #1: "Rubbish - The word "tweet" has attained the status of common parlance in English. It has gone beyond colloquialisms, neologisms and jargon because it is so widely used across society. It is not tied to a gender, trade, job, or technology".
    -----------------------------------------------------------------------
    I dispute your assertions on usage - the word has attained common parlance only among the media, trendy politicians and some sections of the younger generation. It is not 'widely used' across most of society, and most normal people I know think the whole 'tweeting' scene is just a fashion thing for bored teenagers.

    Complain about this comment

  • 10. At 9:55pm on 11 Jun 2010, Jonathon Watkins - PhotoGlow wrote:

    If Twitter themselves say that we should use 'tweet' then a tweet is it. :-)

    Complain about this comment

  • 11. At 9:59pm on 11 Jun 2010, Jonathon Watkins - PhotoGlow wrote:

    "...and most normal people I know think the whole 'tweeting' scene is just a fashion thing for bored teenagers".

    How are you defining 'normal' here? ;-)

    A tool is only as effective as the user and how they use it.

    Would a tweet by any other name still be as silly? :-)

    Complain about this comment

  • 12. At 10:26pm on 11 Jun 2010, John wrote:

    Ironically - all the people complaining about the use of 'Tweet' to represent a post or update on twitter, knows exactly what the word means. A single word description for a unique action only otherwise describable by the use of a phrase such as 'Updated his twitter'

    So it appears to me that 'Tweet' is a good word to use in that context :)

    Complain about this comment

  • 13. At 11:16pm on 11 Jun 2010, Rabbitkiller wrote:

    #11 - At 9:59pm on 11 Jun 2010, Jonathon Watkins - PhotoGlow wrote:
    "...and most normal people I know think the whole 'tweeting' scene is just a fashion thing for bored teenagers".

    How are you defining 'normal' here? ;-)

    A tool is only as effective as the user and how they use it.

    Would a tweet by any other name still be as silly? :-)
    ----------------------------------------------------------------------

    Well, the name is silly; the whole concept may not be silly but it is negative in two ways - 1) its essence of brevity encourages the use of language at the most basic level - it works against the development of good language skills and the ability to write eloquently; 2) it seems to be an end in itself, not serving any real need but encouraging people to waste valuable time on rather pointless communication just because it's there. There are worse things - gambling machines, zap-boom type computer games, porn videos, ... Tomorrow I'm in the real world, doing charity work, then reading a good novel, then off to the opera. You can twitter your life away for all I care.

    Complain about this comment

  • 14. At 00:40am on 12 Jun 2010, NickJ365 wrote:

    I think it's great that such a small word should give rise to such debate.

    Whilst Twitter may still be the preserve of technophiles, it is by no means restricted to teenagers. There are a great number of respected personages from all walks of life using Twitter and the service is of great interest and use to personal and business users alike.

    It may not survive, but it will spawn a new form of media and communication, as many people use it to keep in touch with what's happening. Its ease of use and access by people across the world mean that news is now beginning to break there first (e.g. the terror attack in Mumbai, election protests in Iran). Much of its appeal is that you are updated in real-time, by people who are there.

    With regards to the NYT's editor's ban on the word 'tweet', I would expect to find jargon, colloquialisms and neologisms in articles covering sport, technology, finance, etc., and it cannot be beyond the wit of a responsible journalist or columnist to explain such words, if they are relevant in the context of the article.

    And, let's face it, such articles are going to be read either by those who tweet (amongst whom are journalists!) or those who are interested in tweeting - just as avid book readers and opera-goers will probably read the arts reviews.

    And, please, some of us on Twitter do also support charities in our alternate 'real' lives (charity fundraising also exists online, too!).

    Complain about this comment

  • 15. At 00:44am on 12 Jun 2010, Deltaflux wrote:

    Googling sounds sillier than tweeting, is he banning the use of that too?

    And regarding the comment "2) its essence of brevity encourages the use of language at the most basic level - it works against the development of good language skills and the ability to write eloquently", I would argue that constructing an eloquent tweet (there, I used that word again) is a skill as much as, for example, writing a haiku.

    Complain about this comment

  • 16. At 00:50am on 12 Jun 2010, NickJ365 wrote:

    Actually, if it's good enough for polymath, Stephen Fry, to use the word, it's good enough for me! :)

    Complain about this comment

  • 17. At 01:10am on 12 Jun 2010, Douglas Daniel wrote:

    #13 - not serving any real need but encouraging people to waste valuable time on rather pointless communication just because it's there. There are worse things - gambling machines, zap-boom type computer games, porn videos, ... Tomorrow I'm in the real world, doing charity work, then reading a good novel, then off to the opera. You can twitter your life away for all I care.

    I'm hardly a Twitter fan myself (and I'm not particularly keen on the over-exposure it is given on the BBC tech blogs), but you do realise that you just sound like an out-of-touch fuddy-duddy who has completely missed the point?

    You probably think telling the world you're going to the opera makes you sound like a high-cultured, intelligent individual, but the reality is you just come across as the sort of person who goes to the opera specifically to be able to say "I went to the opera". If there's a more pointless past-time than the opera, I've not heard of it, unless you consider trying to convince people you're a part of high society to be a worthwhile exercise. It's certainly no more worthy than "zap-boom" computer games (whatever they are) which, if nothing else, can be a way of socialising with friends - a very worthy exercise for a social animal such as the human.

    If you're such a fan of charity work, then surely you can appreciate the role Twitter played in mobilising support for the Haiti earthquake this year? Or the way it helped organise protests in Iran last year?

    But most of all, as the intelligent person you're trying to portray yourself as, surely you see the irony in telling people they can "twitter your life away" in a comment on an internet blog? A 140 character tweet takes considerably less time to compose and publish than any of your three comments on here took. Oops!

    Complain about this comment

  • 18. At 01:11am on 12 Jun 2010, ch21ss wrote:

    "The whole communications industry gets ever more infantile with the use of terms like 'tweet'. The impression it gives is of children's comic language - perhaps we await 'oww', 'burp' and 'blam' for the next instalment of nonsense."

    And this by a user who takes the name "rabbitkiller". Is this intended as irony?

    Complain about this comment

  • 19. At 08:49am on 12 Jun 2010, JunkkMale wrote:

    Fascinating stuff as I munch my morning breakfast sarny, so named at some point....

    Complain about this comment

  • 20. At 3:09pm on 12 Jun 2010, Green Soap wrote:

    No posts for 3 weeks, and then we get Apple, Google, and Twitter.

    Is there any other Technology in Silicon Valley these days? Seemingly not.

    Complain about this comment

  • 21. At 3:55pm on 12 Jun 2010, swells999 wrote:

    The first priority of the New York Times should be to cut down on the number of typographical errors that are beginning to appear on its site. Frankly, this is a bigger problem for them than whether or not they embrace slang or neologisms.

    Complain about this comment

  • 22. At 5:16pm on 12 Jun 2010, James Baker wrote:

    1. At 1:23pm on 11 Jun 2010, Ed Syrett wrote:
    Rubbish - The word "tweet" has attained the status of common parlance in English. It has gone beyond colloquialisms, neologisms and jargon because it is so widely used across society. It is not tied to a gender, trade, job, or technology.

    "widely used across society"? I'll be honest, I've only ever so much as heard the word 'tweet' either in the media or on the internet. The vast majority of people don't use Twitter (something like one in thirty people have a Twitter account) and those who do mostly don't use them. It says something that 7% of UK Twitter users produce 79% of the content.

    Claiming that tweet is widely used across society is incorrect. The majority of people only hear about 'tweets' from people in the media, so this clampdown on them is a good idea.

    Complain about this comment

  • 23. At 09:13am on 14 Jun 2010, Aidy wrote:

    @Deltaflux #15

    "Googling sounds sillier than tweeting, is he banning the use of that too?"

    Probably, yes. "Googing" falls into the same category as "doing the hoovering", using "sellotape" or a "tannoy".

    @James Baker #22

    The average number of "tweets" done by a user on Twitter is 1. Yep....1. That shows how skewed the service is toward the heavy users.

    Complain about this comment

  • 24. At 2:11pm on 14 Jun 2010, knightmonkey wrote:

    "Tweet sounds silly"
    I'm pretty sure no one is forcing you to use that nickname for 'an update on Twitter'.
    I'm pretty sure 'E-mail' sounded silly once upon a time.
    A nickname for anything is irritating to some.
    I had a 'chat' to my friend earlier, some people may prefer to say 'i had a conversation', or 'a chin-wag'.
    Who bloody cares.
    Call it what you want!
    tweet / twit / update / message / post / comment (delete as appropriate)

    Complain about this comment

  • 25. At 3:49pm on 14 Jun 2010, Tim wrote:

    Interesting how a lot of people are dismissing Twitter and the use of the word tweet as something for 'trendy young people' or 'teenagers' etc. Do you not think that maybe, the words being brought into language by these people ARE the words that will remain in the future? It's a new technology, it is used extensively, and the word tweet simply persists because, as people above have mentioned, it says in one word, that which would otherwise take at least four or five.

    Complain about this comment

  • 26. At 7:25pm on 14 Jun 2010, Ben Clay wrote:

    "Some social-media fans may disagree, but outside of (sic) ornithological contexts, 'tweet' has not yet achieved the status of standard English." Mr Corbett seems to have destroyed any claim to guardianship of standard English at a stroke.

    Complain about this comment

  • 27. At 07:20am on 15 Jun 2010, Boris wrote:

    I've never actually visited Twitter's home page, despite the wealth of advertising BBC Online carried out for it.
    Neither do I have any plans to do so, partly because of the ridiculous name, and partly as i just have no particular need to use that form of communication.
    I suspect no-one has a need, just a want, because if they don't, horror of horrors, they will not be in-step with the in-crowd!

    Complain about this comment

  • 28. At 2:44pm on 15 Jun 2010, JunkkMale wrote:

    http://topics.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/06/15/the-tweet-debate/

    'One interesting note: Of the dozens of blogs and Web sites worldwide that weighed in, exactly two actually contacted me directly to ask about the issue.'

    Complain about this comment

  • 29. At 11:45pm on 15 Jun 2010, scallywagy wrote:

    Well, it is apparent that traditional print media is finding itself in a very sensitive position. New outlets like the Times seem willing to embrace only so much of today’s omnipresent new media technology. Quite frankly, I think it’s somewhat noble of the Times to take a stand against some of the more vapid jargoneeering so common in technology. But what about “re-tweet”?

    http://scallywagandvagabond.com/2010/06/no-tweeting-at-the-new-york-times/

    Complain about this comment

  • 30. At 5:37pm on 16 Jun 2010, Clive Sinclair wrote:

    Even the great wordsmith Mr Fry agrees with 'evolving' English and uses the word 'Tweet'.

    Good job we didn't listen to people demanding automobiles be banned, or telling people air travel will only ever be for the wealthy, or the iPhone will never sell.....

    Complain about this comment

  • 31. At 3:21pm on 17 Jun 2010, Jonathan wrote:

    Tweet is perfectly correct English, both a verb and a noun describing the sound made by a twittering bird. Some people may be unfamiliar with it in this new context, but it can't be said to sound silly when it's long been part of the language.

    The question is whether special words describing a specific commercial service should be used without further explanation. In an article on social media, referring to a tweet is perfectly acceptable. In an article on a completely different topic, it should say, "In an update [or "tweet"] posted to the social media site twitter..." If the "or tweet" part is included, it can be referred to as such later in the article. This is surely just good editorial practice?

    Complain about this comment

  • 32. At 11:27pm on 17 Jun 2010, marcdraco wrote:

    Twitter/tweeting is only where it is because of the massive financial backing Twitter Inc. has. Period.

    While not as educated as Mr Fry, I still cringe when people (including the odd BBC presenter) confuse words such as "less" and "fewer". They evolved their meanings to make the language clearer.

    Google, the verb, was sanctified around 2006. It's perfectly good English to say "I googled for that" even if you used Bing, Yahoo or any other service.

    Twitter is not in the same league.

    Google Inc. earns its money from advertising; Twitter has been given a war chest (in the millions) with which it can take over the planet by offering a free (and advertisement free) service. For now. Moreover, by opening just enough of its API, Twitter has gotten a lot of developers to create "free" and non-free clients - which in turn garner even more users.

    The BBC, the largest website in the UK, paid for by UK citizens has given Twitter and Facebook a massive injection of publicity and look - here's Maggie Sheils doing it again: in context for once.

    Worst of all, and the straw for me, was including it in iPlayer.

    That won't do.

    Twitter has about as much respect for our privacy as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad respects the West.

    The very essence of the service is to gather information and re-broadcast it - and our collective iPlayer data will be invaluable to advertisers.

    Nice one, BBC. You just shot a the Twittering iPlayer users out there right in the foot. You must be so proud.







    Complain about this comment

  • 33. At 8:08pm on 18 Jun 2010, ruffled_feathers wrote:

    Seeing this, I had to have a look - never looked at Twitter before. Now I know why I hadn't looked. Mind-numbing.

    I am going to go and have a cup of tea with a physically present person now.

    Complain about this comment

  • 34. At 7:34pm on 19 Jun 2010, PAW wrote:

    Yes, Twitter has a lot of trivia, but so does everything.

    Last year I was diagnosed with cancer - since then I've been using Twitter to keep friends and family informed of my treatment and my progress. I could have phoned or emailed them with the news, though if I did then I wouldn't have time to do anything else.

    Complain about this comment

  • 35. At 10:23pm on 22 Jun 2010, marcdraco wrote:

    PAW (34) - I sympathise with your condition, a friend of mine is recovering after a second bout and another friend has just received the all-clear after 5 long years. The mere mention of it instills a deep dread in me.

    The point a lot of us are making here is twofold:

    1. What you're doing with Twitter could just as easily *and more privately* have been done using email. Did you know that every "tweet" you send is visible to everyone? Even people not signed up to Twitter? Do you really want to broadcast that sort of news to the world - where some sicko might be getting a hit from your pain? Did you appreciate that some greedy ad man is getting those statistics from your suffering and may be using it to target "medication" at you?

    If you don't have the knowledge to create a mailing group (or your email program doesn't have one) you could use a mailbot... Twitter really isn't that new - what's new is the way it's funded - millions of dollars of venture capital and the quaintly bizarre SMS character restriction.

    2. Twitter Inc. is not the only micro-blogging game in town - despite the BBC's love affair with it; so far as I know, it's the only commercial one that I'm aware of.

    Complain about this comment

  • 36. At 10:22am on 05 Jul 2010, Aidy wrote:

    @marcdraco #32

    > I still cringe when people (including the odd BBC presenter)
    > confuse words such as "less" and "fewer".

    Yes, it's not hard to know the difference between the two;

    "I'd like to see fewer articles about Twitter and Apple on the BBC's tech blogs."

    "I'd like to see less coverage of Twitter and Apple on the BBC's tech blogs."

    Complain about this comment

  • 37. At 12:54pm on 05 Jul 2010, marcdraco wrote:

    Ahmen to that, Aidy!

    And I work with a A***e computers - so I could be accused of bias myself.

    Complain about this comment

  • 38. At 12:51pm on 07 Jul 2010, Jozcoz wrote:

    Given that the Royal family "tweets" I think it's obvious...

    Complain about this comment

View these comments in RSS

BBC iD

Sign in

BBC navigation

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.