New York Times Editor Rages Against “Tweets”

Sat, Jun 12, 2010

Social, Twitter

According to a MediaBistro report, one New York Times editor isn’t pleased with his staffers using the word “tweet”. Phil Corbett, the paper’s standards editor released the following memo to staffers:

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.”

Coming from a journalism background myself, I can understand Corbett’s need for stringent standards and consistency in how they present information to the public. Having said that–come on. Twitter is an established social media network with tens of millions of users and global name recognition. Even if people don’t completely understand it or like it, they’ve likely heard about it and know what a “tweet” is. Or, at the very least, can glean from something being quoted that this person said or wrote the statement.

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Art is a Weekend Editor at Frisky Mongoose focusing on video games and the social media that surrounds them.

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