Phil Corbett, the latest standards editor at the Times (maybe the greatest job in the world?), has issued a proclamation! Yesterday, the following memo went out, asking writers to abstain from the invented past-tense and other weird iterations of the magical noun-verb “Twitter.” His case isn’t terrible, actually—and he offers this terrifying vision: “Someday, ‘tweet’ may be as common as ‘e-mail.'” Oh dear. Well, read for yourself and decide.
How About “Chirp”?
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.
One test is to ask yourself whether people outside of a target group regularly employ the terms in question. Many people use Twitter, but many don’t; my guess is that few in the latter group routinely refer to “tweets” or “tweeting.” Someday, “tweet” may be as common as “e-mail.” Or another service may elbow Twitter aside next year, and “tweet” may fade into oblivion. (Of course, it doesn’t help that the word itself seems so inherently silly.)
“Tweet” may be acceptable occasionally for special effect. But let’s look for deft, English alternatives: use Twitter, post to or on Twitter, write on Twitter, a Twitter message, a Twitter update. Or, once you’ve established that Twitter is the medium, simply use “say” or “write.”
Make of it what you will. But, my quibble? I cannot believe he takes that horrible turn in the last sentence! No one “says” anything on Twitter! That’s pollution of the language. One either WRITES or one SAYS. I will never accept the argument that these words are interchangeable!