What Is a Tweet?

How Twitter Is Changing Our Language

Twitter phone
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A tweet is a short text (up to 140 characters) posted on Twitter, an online social networking service founded in 2006 by web developer Jack Dorsey.

Like other social-networking sites, Twitter serves as a valuable source of data for linguists and social scientists.

Examples and Observations

  • "[O]lder writers see tweets as sloppy, shallow, or even corrosive of language. I see a generation communicating, better." (Christopher Carter Anderson, "Writing a Novel--140 Characters at a Time." The Huffington Post, November 21, 2012)

New Words on Twitter

  • "With its 140-character limit, Twitter encourages abbreviation. It's also an informal forum, one where people are more comfortable inventing terms than they would be in other forms of the written word. . . .
    "[A]s the blossoming of words like twisticuffs and tweeple suggests, there may also be something about tw. It's not universally popular though--the book Twitter for Dummies notes 'many avid users actually find [tw- words] rather annoying.' . . .
    "Twitter founder Jack Dorsey tells the story that Twitch was another possible name, suggested by the little vibration a phone performs when a message arrives. However the word also brings to mind nervous tics and barely-suppressed fury.
    "'So we looked in the dictionary for words around it and we came across the word twitter and it was just perfect,' he says. "The definition was "a short burst of inconsequential information," and "chirps from birds.". And that's exactly what the product was.'" (Alan Connor, "Twitter Spawns Twitterverse of New Words." BBC News Magazine, September 5, 2011)
  • "Dialect words are spreading across the nation thanks to social networking. Dr. Eric Schleef, lecturer in English Sociolinguistics at the University of Manchester, said: 'Twitter, Facebook and texting all encourage speed and immediacy of understanding, meaning users type as they speak. We are all becoming exposed to words we may not have otherwise encountered.'
    "He said that Welsh terms like tidy and lush have spread nationwide thanks to social networking . . .." (Ian Tucker, "Twitter Spreads Regional Slang, Claims an Academic." The Observer, September 4, 2010)

Nonstandard Language in Tweets

  • "One example where non-standard language is used extensively is Twitter, a micro-blogging service where publicly available broadcast messages (called tweets) are limited to a mere 140 characters. This limitation causes users to be very creative in shortening words, using abbreviations and emoticons. Furthermore, special word classes exist that mark users (starting with @) or self-defined tags (starting with #), and many tweets contain a URL, which is usually shortened.
    "Here are some examples of tweets from March 26, 2010 that contain nonstandard English:
    - RT @ Pete4L: Guys plz d/l the lettr Ive written 2 Jeff Gaspin, he's THE man who can giv us #Heroes S5 http://tinyurl.com/y9pcaj7 #Heroes100
    - @SkyhighCEO LOOOL heyyy! shullup! #Jujufish
    - LUV HER o03.o025.o010 thankx to da sis ariana 4 makin da pic I most def lyk it but goin 2 da rink 2 moRrow ya dawg wit da http://lnk.ms/5svJB
    - Q: hay justin SCREEEEEEEEEM!!!!!! i luv u OMG!!!!!!! i did a quiz ubout if me and u wer thu only ones o http://www.society.me/q/29910/view

    This type of language is not a fringe phenomenon, but can be encountered frequently in Twitter streams. Whereas most of the long examples contain enough stopwords to classify them as English, the second example does not contain any valid English word. In preliminary explorations it was observed that the language and geo tag provided with the tweet only correlates weakly with its language." (Chris Biemann, Structure Discovery in Natural Language. Springer, 2012)

Trolling on Twitter

  • "'Troll' means a lot more than it used to. Since the early 1990s, to troll has meant to spew disingenuousness to get a rise out of a reader, especially online. As the web burgeoned, trolling became a catchall, even in the material world. Anyone lazy but opinionated? A troll. Anyone who said something that someone lazy but opinionated would say? Also a troll.
    "Twitter has a lot to do with the troll's rise. Ponder for a moment how much lazy opinion spills forth from the world's mouths and fingertips. And then recall that all sports fandom sounds an awful lot like lazy opinion." (Jack Dickey, "When Trolls Attack." Sports Illustrated, December 9, 2013)

Linguistics and Twitter

  • "Twitter is a new world for linguists. Like text-messaging, tweets capture a casual, speech-like discourse in writing. Creating a massive corpus of millions of messages is relatively effortless, simply by taking advantage of the 'firehose' of tweets that Twitter’s streaming service makes available--and who influences whom is much more apparent than in daily life. As such, the new medium is illustrating phenomena that language researchers have never had such easy access to before now. . . .
    "Unlike more settled genres of interaction, Twitter has yet to establish well-defined norms of usage. It’s the Wild West of language, which makes it both exciting and daunting for linguistic scholars. Lying somewhere in the gray zone between speech and writing, Twitter-ese can shine a light on how we make up the rules of language use as we go along." (Ben Zimmer, "How Twitter Language Reveals Your Gender--or Your Friends’." The Boston Globe, November 4, 2012)
  • "[U]pwards of 150 Twitter-based [research] studies have come out in 2013 so far. . . .
    "In a study released this June, Dutch researchers at the University of Twente found that young tweeters were more apt to type all-capital words and to use expressive lengthening, like writing 'niiiiiiice' instead of 'nice.' The older crowd is more apt to tweet well-wishing phrases like good morning and take care, to send longer tweets and to use more prepositions.
    "Then there are geography, income and race. For instance, the term suttin (a variant of something) has been associated with Boston-area tweets, while the acronym ikr (an expression meaning 'I know, right?') is popular in the Detroit area. . . .
    "Another complication is that people write on Twitter in ways they never have before, which is why researchers at Carnegie Mellon developed an automated tagger that can identify bits of tweet-speak that aren't standard English, like Ima (which serves as a subject, verb and preposition to convey 'I am going to')." (Katy Steimetz, "The Linguist's Mother Lode." Time, September 9, 2013)
  • "Sneakers or tennis shoes? Hoagie or hero? Dust bunny or house moss? These differences in regional speech are thriving in an unlikely place--Twitter.
    "A study presented by Brice Russ, a graduate student at Ohio State University, at the American Dialect Society’s annual meeting in January demonstrates how Twitter can be used as a valuable and abundant source for linguistic research. With more than 200 million posts each day, the site has allowed researchers to predict moods, study the Arab Spring and now, map out regional dialects.
    "According to the New York Times, Russ waded through nearly 400,000 Twitter posts to analyze three different linguistic variables. He started by mapping the regional distribution of 'Coke,' 'pop' and 'soda' based on 2,952 tweets from 1,118 identifiable locations. As has been documented in the past, 'Coke' predominantly came from Southern tweets, 'pop' from the Midwest and Pacific Northwest and 'soda' from the Northeast and Southwest." (Kate Springer, "#Soda or #Pop? Regional Language Quirks Get Examined on Twitter." Time, March 5, 2012)

Margaret Atwood's Defense of Twitter

  • "You get a lot of nonsense about, 'Won’t Twitter destroy English language?' Well, did the telegram destroy the English language? No. . . . So it is a short form communication method, like writing on washroom walls. Or like Romans writing graffiti back in Rome, or Vikings writing runes on the walls of tombs they had broken into. You weren’t going to write a novel on the wall of a tomb. But you were going to write 'Thorfeld was here,' which is pretty much what they wrote. 'Found no treasure. Shit.'" ("'Who Survives, Who Doesn’t?' An Interview With Margaret Atwood," by Isabel Slone. Hazlitt, August 30, 2013)
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Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "What Is a Tweet?" ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, thoughtco.com/tweet-definition-1692478. Nordquist, Richard. (2023, April 5). What Is a Tweet? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/tweet-definition-1692478 Nordquist, Richard. "What Is a Tweet?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/tweet-definition-1692478 (accessed June 1, 2023).