Oooh, look at the fancy New York Times with their fancy fifty-cent zoological words!
Hot off the heels of their recent investigative piece on “bros icing bros,” the Times has issued an edict banning the colloquial term “tweet” from the Gray Lady’s pages when not used to describe avian activities. While Times writer Dave Itzkoff tweeted (TWEETED!) that the story posted by The Awl containing an email from the paper’s standards editor Phil Corbett “wasn’t true,” it appears that Corbett did write the email in question. (The writer snarkily -SNARKILY!- added “Not true, of course, but hey, it’s the Internet.”)
Itzkoff backpedaled, saying that the memo itself was real, but that “others wrote back to say they use ‘tweet.’” Corbett told Yahoo News that he can’t even convince Times writers to use proper grammar, much less force the lot of them to quit it with the new media slang:
“I think it wouldn’t really be right to say the word’s banned,” Corbett told Yahoo! News after the Awl’s post quickly bounced around the Twitterverse.
Corbett said that in straight news stories, “tweet” should be avoided except in special cases. As for banning, Corbett said he doesn’t actually have the power to issue such decrees. “I can’t even convince people to use ‘who’ and ‘whom’ correctly,” he said.
Corbett haughtily added:
“It’s guidance,” he said. “It’s trying to put people on alert that, in my humble opinion, ‘tweet’ is a word that hasn’t become … dictionary-level standard English.”
…another arbiter of newspaper style — actually the Bible of journalism style — has no problem with the word “Tweet” at all.
In its entry on “Twitter” — added in 2009 — the AP Stylebook says this:
“A message-distribution system that allows users to post continual updates of up to 140 characters detailing their activities for followers or providing links to other content. The verb is to tweet, tweeted. A Twitter message is known as a tweet.
Full text of Corbett’s tweet-ban, below- the suggestion is to use the far more awkward “wrote” or “said on Twitter” in lieu of the banned word:
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.”