OnWords: Tweet

Jul 25, 2017

Remember when tweets were only reserved for birds?

Yeah, I don’t either.

Of all the words we might point to that have almost immediately taken on a new set of meanings, derivations of “twitter” should top the list.

The eponymous social media platform might be blamed for this, but another factor is the flexibility of language itself. This flexibility allows multiple meanings for words to quickly accrue; the old ones don’t disappear entirely, but the new ones come to dominate—at least for a while.

So why are captivated by Twitter? Possibly because of the nature of the word itself.

“Twitter,” “tweet,” and “tweeting” are fun, quick, and easy to say, and “Facebook” isn’t. Plus, “Facebooking” sounds like you’re making hotel reservations for the front of your head.

The popularity of the word “twitter” exists despite the fact that Facebook has more users: we do more Facebooking than tweeting, but we talk about doing it less. That the Twitter platform uses so few words probably helps as well. A tweet is easy to screen shot, usually requires little analysis, and fits easily into the world of soundbites and short attention spans.

This has led to the equally charismatic term “Twitterverse,” which implies that there’s a whole worldview that appears 140 characters at a time. Those of us who like getting lost in thick text lament the Twitterverse, but I suspect it’s a symptom of a culture ready to accept twitterpation rather than a result of it.

If we really cared to linger over literature and re-enter a world of slow words, we would long ago have left the tweeting for the birds.