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No Tweets for New York Times

June 13, 2010

You might not be seeing the word “Tweet” being used in New York Times articles anymore, atleast for now. NY Times’ standards editor Phil Corbett, recently sent a memo to his staff banning the use of the word tweet, according to The Awl. According to Phil, tweet might become as common as e-mail in coming times but until then he suggests that the word not be used for journalistic purposes restricting it for occasional usage for special effects only. Here is the memo courtesy website The Awl:

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.”

NY Times logic and rational is genuine but also avoiding social media jargon is not pragmatic these days. So tweets might be polluting the language and decreasing our attention span and I personally don’t like much the idea of twitter and tweeting, but social media is here to stay and new media has to be incorporated with traditional media judiciously, not banning it altogether. What do you think? Meanwhile, let me tweet this post 🙂

Sidetracking: Since I am talking about NY times and about words, here is another related link which you might like to follow. NY times published a list of 50 top words  the users looked up for the meaning in its online dictionary feature in 2010. Topping the list are words inchoate, profligacy, sui generis, austerity and profligate. Look up the list and figure out how many words you know.

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