Skip to main content

New York Times Bans The Word 'Tweet'

Let's go ahead and get this out of the way. Here's the definition of "tweet" according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary

  • Pronunciation: ˈtwēt 
  • Function: noun  
  • Etymology: imitative 
  • Date: 1768 
  • : a chirping note 
  • tweet  intransitive verb 

Recently the latest standards editor of the New York Times, Phil Corbett, distributed a memo to the writers asking to refrain using all words associated with Twitter. This means they can no longer use "tweet" or "tweeted" or whatever else other low-life journalists are using to speak to the people of now.

Instead, New York Times writers must simply use "say" or "write" after establishing that Twitter is the medium in the topic. His argument is that--unlike the word "e-mail" which has become a standard term--readers outside the Twitter arena do not use words associated with the social website. Because of this, current "buzzwords" and "jargon" should be avoided. 

Here's the memo in its entirety: 

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."

Is Corbett taking it a bit too far? Or does he have a point? Perhaps certain articles should refrain from using tweet references--those pertaining to business, finance, or other professional-based topics. However let's face it: the word "Twitter" and its derivatives have become descriptive of a current form of communication. It may be a fad, or it may be a permanent tool. Who knows. Nonetheless, Tom's is hip and cool, so I'm going to tweet tweet tweet tweet all the way home.