The New York Times Bans the Use of the Word “Tweet”? … Well, Not Yet.

The New York Times Bans the Use of the Word “Tweet”? … Well, Not Yet.

Aah! The Internet … source of all information, wellspring of data, and now it seems … not to be (entirely) trusted … who knew??

Recently a blog post by Choire Sicha (common pronunciation) at proclaimed that New York Times standards editor, Phil Corbett had issued a memo banning the use of “tweet” the invented past tense version of the noun-verb Twitter.

The fact is, Phil Corbett did send out a memo, a portion of which is included below. Mr. Corbett however, has since stated that he does not as standards editor, have the power to “ban” a word or words from use in the New York Times. His job it seems is to suggest that writers at the Old Grey Lady maintain a level of grammar and style that preserve the Queen’s English in as best a fashion as an American newspaper can.

Memo excerpt – 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.” –

I suppose I agree with Phil’s sentiment somewhat, in that if nobody performs this function we as writers would soon slide the slippery slope of slang, start using verbose vernacular … wait, I just read the word “tween” in the Times and “gay” too. Both of which were summarily dismissed as slang in the past by The Times, yet now appear with regularity in this bastion of print media.

Mr. Corbett allows as to how the word “tweet” has not much function outside of ornithology because “tweet” has not yet achieved the status of standard English. With standard English being what Corbett feels the New York Times should use in news articles.

Here is where I disagree with Phil. Today there are over 250 million people using the 140 character communication tool that goes by the aforementioned noun/brand/name Twitter. Those people routinely speak of what they just did as “tweeting” as in, “I just sent out a tweet to my twitter followers about Phil Corbett of the New York Times sending a memo to his staff banning the word tweet.” … yes, that was 140 characters.

I do not have an exact count, but I doubt there are 250 million ornithologists traipsing the woods listening for the “tweet” of the slender-billed Curlew (last seen in Morocco in 1995 by the way). I do however believe that the word “tweet” is used verbally and in print more times during any give day than there are ornithologists on the planet.

Give it a rest Phil. While it is important to have “keepers of the flame” to make sure that those of us who toil at keyboard or pen maintain a level above Appalachian Moutainspeak when addressing our readers, one can not stop colloquialism from going mainstream. The 800lb gorilla here is the massive number of tweeters, tweeting away to their hearts content driving Twitter into ubiquity. Will Twitter ever be replaced? Almost assuredly, but until all 250 million “twiterers”, “tweeters” or “twits” have passed from this life, “tweet” will remain a part of their collective memory. And much the same as we no longer use “gay” as a term meaning cheerful, we all still remember it as an appropriate use along with merry, bright in color and carefree as explained in almost every dictionary in print. “Tween” still shows up as a preposition and the same as “between” in most dictionaries with no mention of that awkward time between ones teenage years and his or her twenties.  Not in my dictionary, just in The New York Times.

I tweet, she tweets, we all tweeted.