• SETH ON LANGUAGE 18.10.2013

    When someone sends a message on Twitter, and they are quoted either by themselves or someone else, the current convention is to say, “X tweeted Y.” Not since the phrase “X xeroxed Y” has a company been so pleased with the public’s use of a corporate verb to express their actions. I think it is time to show some resistance to this portion of Twitter’s master plan to dominate our lexicon.

    When someone “tweets” something, they are writing it in the public domain. Thus, if I choose to quote a public figure, is it necessary to say that “Jim Carrey tweeted Y,” or could I not say, “Jim Carrey said/wrote/stated Y”? Is there anything gained by always crediting Twitter when referencing a comment from it?

    Until this phenomenon, the branded medium by which people express an idea has not been universally indicated when quoting them. That is not to say that media nouns have never become verbs; sometimes we might say, for rhetorical purposes, that Dickens “penned” a phrase, but not always. And never do we say that Shakespeare “Bic”ed a play or that Austen “Random House”d a novel. I acknowledge that the word “tweeted” gives an audience more information than they would have gained from a simple “said” or “wrote,” but is that extra detail always useful to our understanding?

    It seems to me that, when speaking from the first-person perspective, noting for one’s audience that one is quoting a tweet can often be useful. For instance, the phrase, “I said that I will give up alcohol” may mean less than saying, “I tweeted that I will give up alcohol” because the latter tells us that it was a public announcement. (But even then, one could simply state that they made the announcement “on social media” or even “on Twitter.” One doesn’t necessarily have to transform Twitter into the verb of the sentence, which makes the social media outfit an essential component of one’s phrasing). When journalists are quoting celebrities or academics, however, we can assume that their subject’s statements are public, and therefore, amalgamating the expression with its platform is not as universally necessary as the constant usage implies. Nor does it appear to be consistent with how we refer to other carriers of correspondence. In my estimation, for instance, the press is less likely to identify the medium of communication when discussing non-Twitter statements. For instance, if a politician makes a remark at a press conference, the location of the remark is not always identified, and the phrase “X press conferenced Y” is never used.

    Thus, I believe the statement “X tweeted Y” (1) limits our expression (as we seem to be using the verb in any case that it applies, instead of employing the linguistic discretion that we would when referring to statements made in other media), which in turn (2) harms our language aesthetically, and (3) plays into mighty Twitter’s hopes and tweets for world linguistic domination.

    On its own, Twitter’s ability to infiltrate our language in this omnipresent way is not going to break the dictionary, but if we don’t resist, then the next global online phenomenon will try to do the same, and soon our sentences will look like a collection of billboards. Ultimately, the phrase “tweeted” may be relevant and informative more of the time than I am estimating here. Currently, however, this is hard to know because we are using the phrase indiscriminately and are thus giving special privilege to Twitter that we do not offer to other communication media.

    I’m not anti-capitalist, and so I’m not saying that the word “tweeted” should never be used; but I dislike the product placement in our sentences, and more significantly, I fear that such uncritical language usage that is homogenizing our expression.

    Posted by SethBlog @ 1:11 PM

  • 7 Responses

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    • Natalie Says:

      This linguistic laziness makes me want to kleenex my eyes and häagen-dazs my stomach!

    • SethBlog Says:

      Hee, hee, nicely said, Natalie. I see you have xeroxed my idea for comedy there. 😉

    • Tom Durrie Says:

      A very interesing point, Seth. To call any communication a “tweet” (unless it comes from a canary) seems to me to diminish the seriousness of anything that is said. I also object to having any opinion I want to express limited to 140 (or whatever it is) characters. Is this degradation of public discourse?

    • SethBlog Says:

      Well Said, TomD! The lack of seriousness in the word “tweeted” is, I think, part of why I am annoyed by it, but I wasn’t sure how to phrase my irritation. It’s one thing for Jim Carrey to be referred to as “tweeting” something, but when Salman Rushdie “tweets” a thought, I can’t helping feeling that his high-end opinion is being reduced to a silly animal noise.

      Meanwhile, in terms of the 140 characters on Twitter, I too find it limiting, and so I don’t use Twitter very much. It can be useful as a sort of headline for something bigger as one includes a link to one’s blog, for example. Also, I understand it’s purpose was to expand text messaging (which is also limited to 140 characters) so as to create a public texting conversation. I do see a benefit to this as it does seem to promote discussion that wouldn’t otherwise happen. However, as you suggest, that public communication is often severely limited and simplified, and much of the time seems to be written in a sort of incomprehensible Twitter code that allows people to condense their larger points into the tiny space. In this construction, grammar and spelling are lost to the world. So, aesthetically and linguistically, I detest it, too, but I think it may have some benefits in terms of starting conversations.

    • George Orwell Says:

      My dear Seth:

      It is clear that the decline of a language must ultimately have political, and, as you have also stated, economic causes: it is not due simply to the bad influence of this or that individual writer. But I think that an effect can become a cause, reinforcing the original cause and producing the same effect in an intensified form, and so on indefinitely. A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks.

      This brings me to my point, which I think you and Mr. Durrie have already alluded to: it is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.

      Your comrade in the fight against bad writing,

      E.A.B.

    • Tamsen Says:

      Hi Seth,
      Well said! Hmm, I got nothing else… it’s all been said above.
      I, too, am not a Twitter person as it seems in general to be counter to the idea of “not saying anything if you don’t have something nice and/or interesting to say.” Yes, there’s some good stuff out there, but to wade through the muck…
      🙂 Tamsen
      (This comment section keeps capitalizing things I don’t want capitalized…just so no one thinks that I messed up. ;))

    • SethBlog Says:

      Thanks George Orwell and Tamsen.

      George: thank you so much for your high-powered support. I was worried that I was over-reacting to what I perceive to be a small symptom of society’s general lack of concern for the quality and clarity of its language, but your approval and argument that foolish phrases reinforce flawed thinking, which in turn provokes further problematic language, leaves me confident that I’m on – or at least near – the right track on this one.

      Tamsen: Sorry about the forced capitals in weird places when you tried to comment: I’ve corrected them (hopefully no one thinks you were making the problem up just for attention ;)). Yikes, your imagining of a better Twitter world is intriguing. While, as you say, there is lots of useful material on Twitter, if all Twitterers (Twits? ;)) were to follow your rule that all commentary should be nice and/or interesting, Twitter would surely become a murmur of its former self.

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