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Last updated at 19:56 BST, Tuesday, 02 June 2009



Jim Pettiward explains the phenomenon and the word 'tweet' and some of its more popular derivatives. Click below to listen:

Twitter homepage


'Tweet'. The booming popularity of online social networking sites has given the English language a bumper crop of new words. Although some of these sites, and the words associated with them, may prove to be short-lived, here today and gone tomorrow, there are others, such as Facebook (see Series 4) which seem to be here to stay.

The latest ‘big thing’ in the world of digital media is Twitter, a social networking site which began back in 2006 and has been growing ever since. Users post short ‘micro-blogs’ (messages) called ‘tweets’ - T-W-E-E-T-S - from their mobile phone or computer to let other people know what they’re doing or to ask a question.

The difference between these and a normal text message or email is that a ‘tweet’ is ‘out there’ in cyberspace, no more than 140 characters long and can be read or answered by anybody on the network. Just like the words ‘google’ and ‘facebook’, ‘tweet’ can be used as a noun or a verb. Twitter is increasingly used for market research, so many companies are now asking themselves ‘To tweet or not to tweet?’

The popularity of Twitter grew after it was used by US presidential candidates before the 2008 election to keep their ‘followers’ up to date – Barack Obama had hundreds of thousands of followers during the election campaign, although he seemed to stop tweeting shortly after the election. I guess he must have been quite busy!

Twitter has spawned a number of related words such as ‘twestival’ (a gathering organised on Twitter) and ‘twirgin’ (someone who is new to Twitter or a first-time user). In fact, if you see an unfamiliar word which starts with a TW- prefix, it’s probably a new word coined by the Twitter community. Some of these words may not make it into the dictionaries, but Twitter seems set to live on.

About Jim Pettiward

Jim Pettiward

Jim Pettiward has a BA (hons) in French and Spanish, CTEFLA and Trinity TESOL Diploma. He has taught EFL, EAP, ESP and Business English in Ecuador, Venezuela, Hungary and the UK. He has also worked as an ICT trainer for the British Council and the University of the Arts, London. He is currently teaching English for Academic Purposes in the Department of Humanities, Arts, Languages and Education at London Metropolitan University.


Series 5

13 talks about new and changing words and expressions by Jim Pettiward