Thursday, June 10th, 2010

'New York Times' Bans the Word 'Tweet'

....Phil Corbett, the latest standards editor at the Times (maybe the greatest job in the world?), has issued a proclamation! Yesterday, the following memo went out, asking writers to abstain from the invented past-tense and other weird iterations of the magical noun-verb "Twitter." His case isn't terrible, actually-and he offers this terrifying vision: "Someday, 'tweet' may be as common as 'e-mail.'" Oh dear. Well, read for yourself and decide.

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."

Make of it what you will. But, my quibble? I cannot believe he takes that horrible turn in the last sentence! No one "says" anything on Twitter! That's pollution of the language. One either WRITES or one SAYS. I will never accept the argument that these words are interchangeable!

Related: other words that begin with "t" that the Times won't print include "tuchus."

92 Comments / Post A Comment

scroll_lock (#4,122)

I'd like Phil to take a knee and advise what his view is on ICE as a verb. BECAUSE THIS IS YOUR STANDARD ICE, BRO.

KarenUhOh (#19)


scroll_lock (#4,122)


shelven (#1,992)

Yes. You can only say someone "says" something referring to Twitter if you follow it with "in her brain". And then you still really have to make it clear that she posted it.

KarenUhOh (#19)


I hate sentences that begin with "And". Ugh!

roboloki (#1,724)

i hate senteces that start with "could you step out of the car, please".

What about the ones that start with, "I'm not trying to be mean, but…" ?

roboloki (#1,724)

i'm getting used to those, but i still cry.

For the record, Times employee (and longtime blog hater-on-er!) Dave Itzkoff just TWEETED (ha) that this is "not true," which he says is par for the course of what he expects on "the Internet." (

We're not clear exactly what part he finds not "true"–yes, our friend in Standards agrees that "tweet" may be used at the paper for "special effect"–but when you write for the paper, and the powers that be issue a memo like this, it is actually a ban. (Ban: "to prohibit, forbid, or bar; interdict.")

It's also worth noting that this memo was sent around with the direction "Bloggers: Please note this guidance from Phil Corbett…"

(Guidance! "the act or function of guiding; leadership; direction.")

So we are giving Dave a confused Scooby-Doo "baroo" look.

DoctorDisaster (#1,970)

You forgot the ornithological exception! Birds can still tweet in the Times.

whygreenberg (#1,880)

Isn't it stuff like this making newspapers "fade into oblivion…seem so inherently silly."

sigerson (#179)

Talk about rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic!

Peter Feld (#79)

Thank you Phil Corbett! And I hope this is true. Can you imagine if you looked up a NYT article from 1974 and it was filled with CB radio slang? It will only take about three years for "tweet" to look that silly, and in about 10 people will just scratch their heads.

Matt (#26)

10-4, good buddy.

saythatscool (#101)

@Matt: We're gonna rock this convoy through the night.

mjfrombuffalo (#2,561)

Watch out for that bear in the air on the I-90.

SidAndFinancy (#4,328)

Looks like Corbett's putting the hammer down.

"One test is to ask yourself whether people outside of a target group regularly employ the terms in question."

I eagerly wait for the Times to display its legendary editorial consistency by banning the term "top-kill," too.

jolie (#16)

Phil Corbett deserves a blowjob ('blow job'? Can we get a clarification on style here? ALEX??) for that parenthetical.

riggssm (#760)

Maybe you should "e-mail" this question in using your America Online Account.

jolie (#16)

Maybe you should shut the fuck up?

riggssm (#760)

"One test is to ask yourself whether people outside of a target group regularly employ the terms in question." – Corbett

Style joke? Blowjob/blow job and e-mail/email? The quaint NYT? Corbett still using "e-mail"? No?

OK! I'll just shut the fuck up.

earthspeakorg (#5,407)

So have they also banned "vetted"? I sure hope so!

And yet!

"BP Account on Twitter? Just a Joke; K thx bye"

FWIW this story does not use the word "Tweet."

Nor does it use the lolspeak bai. Perhaps to avoid confusion with Concern Troll Matt.

Peter Feld (#79)

oof they put spaces in kthxbai

brent_cox (#40)

Is that from Corbett's new blog he has up?

No past tense of "tweet"?

Yes, fear of "twat" runs pretty high over at the Old Grey Lady.

ProfessorBen (#1,254)

This joke will never not be funny. Yippee!

Truly, it is one for the ages, pleasing linguists of all varieties.

marvinfabulous (#5,415)

Even the cunning ones?

swizzard (#329)

I humbly suggest that we all adopt "was like" as the standard for quoting Twitter. As in "@swizzard was like, 'I'm commenting on the Awl, yo.'"

I believe the phrase "was all" would also apply in this case. As in: @milesklee was all "Last, yo."

City_Dater (#2,500)

@Swizzard & Pope:

Maybe we could use "goes" as in: "So then he goes, 'really'? and I go 'yes, really!'"

blueprint (#2,019)

If the Times doesn't want to "seem paleolithic", then maybe they should stop enacting pay walls for content and demanding Apple take down an RSS app for "infringement".

DoctorDisaster (#1,970)

"Top kill" and "vetted" are great examples, along with stuff like "beltway" that is so ingrained no one even notices it. (I found myself getting a well-deserved blank look after using the phrase "beltway common wisdom" in actual spoken conversation the other day, and immediately resolved to cut my political news consumption in half.)

I have to grump, though, because my instinct is to avoid a cumbersome phrase where a succinct word will do. "Post to Twitter" will inflate your sentences a lot faster than "tweet." Serious neologisms like 'tweep' are right out, certainly, but 'tweet' seems better than the alternative.

saythatscool (#101)

This is why you're a microcelebrity around here.

I am agreeing with you. But cumbersome and not succinct fills out a lot of space in a big old newspaper (that needs ads on each page, and more pages all the time), so, you know, it all goes a long way toward justification of the fact that the Times ain't hip to what that new breed say.

saythatscool (#101)

Btw, there isn't a day that goes by where I don't say to myself: "Good thing Jenny 8 quit." She is the wise Latina of Taiwanese Americans.

Bittersweet (#765)

What's the deal with the 8?

saythatscool (#101)

It would appear that she's eating pickles and writing for the Crimson.

No one "says" anything on Twitter!

So fucking true.

SeaBassTian (#281)

Okay, Clarence are you inside my head now or what? I was actually just about to type the exact same thing!

It's kinda nice in here. Things look so…familiar…!

LaurenBegley (#5,408)

Interestingly enough, Corbett has yet to take offense to the verb "to friend" – as in "I friended him on Facebook" – or "to Google" – as in "I Googled the address," both of which have been featured in Times articles or blog entries in the past few months.

DMcK (#5,027)

Google is actually a bona-fide dictionary word now (I Googled it to make sure!). It occurs to me how hilarious it would be if they added a little glossary somewhere amongst the TV listings or something for their less "web-savvy"(urgh) readers.

Charlene J-Shevv (#5,433)

YES! and I'm sure "friended" hasn't been added to the official dictionary yet.

Tanin Ehrami (#5,410)

I wonder if this guy is related to Tom Corbett, the politician that's going after Twitter to get the identities of his critics.

zmack (#5,411)

Standards editor at the New York Times = Good Job
Standards editor at the New York Post = Greatest job conceivable

One is left wondering how many times a day the NYT uses the word "transition" as a verb.
I am a language nazi and even I have to accept that the English language is fluid.

kapauldo (#5,414)

(posted to pikk) Hero or Jerk? NYT editor: Stop using the word Tweet, it sounds stupid (VOTE)

Problem with the alternatives is they fail to communicate the very tweetyness of tweeting and tweets: Being limited to 140 characters. Once the medium is established, tweet should be OK (with the very Timesean "known as tweets" if you must).

(This post has 544 retweets!)

katiechasm (#163)

"Retweets"? I think you meant to say "messages posted to or on Twitter that were then posted again by other users of the micro-weblogging service."

the NYT

SidAndFinancy (#4,328)

I know it's true — I read it on the Information Superhighway.

barryparr (#5,423)

>the magical noun-verb "Twitter."

I don't have an OED handy, but I'm willing to bet that twitter was a verb before it was a noun.

Michael Colombo (#5,428)

IMHO this is a great example of why so many print news outlets are going by the wayside – they're clinging to obsolete rules of journalism that are swiftly becoming irrelevant. That's why this is a FUNNY article.

Albo P. Fossa (#5,434)

Corbett seems not a good writer. He would seem to prefer "utilization" to "usage" or "utilize" to "use".

He would have us say "post something on Twitter" (six syllables) instead of "tweet" (one). He has no sense of concise, terse, direct expression.

Let him return to high school, for basic writing skills. Meanwhile, Corbett, CHILL OUT!

katiechasm (#163)

I think you mean "return thyself to a state of baser temperature."

Phil Corbett

Joe Dempsey, Sr. (#5,435)

Two other words come to mind when I read Phil Corbett's memo: "stick" and "mud".

Steve Simitzis (#5,437)

"E-mail"?? Gasp. That is truly horrific. The word is "email". It's long past time to accept email as a fixture in our lives, rather than a novel invention that differs from "mail" because it is "electronic".

hugesunglasses (#2,696)

The New York Times routinely prints the word 'tween,' which too me, is as bad or worse.

mmmark (#4,458)

But "K thx bye" is perfectly acceptable. In the hede, no less.

Also: congrats to Choire et al! This was all kinds of breaking over the internet today.

33bowls (#5,442)

When Tweeters are banned, only the band will have Tweeters. Or Woofers.

Erik Boles (#5,445)

It is amazing to me that, in a time when there are so many things of far greater importance for a newspaper to focus on, this is what they choose.

Kinda like re-arranging the deck chairs on the titanic.

Adriana Ferguson (#5,447)

What is this "New York Times" you speak of? Is it that quaint little thing that still uses the ancient "paper"?

Jason Viola (#5,450)

"Says" is appropriate when you're talking about written words- when you're citing an essay, for example.

mswyers (#5,458)

"Twat" is the only form that should be banned…for obvious reasons.

TexandtheCity (#2,959)

Or proliferated. For obvious reasons.

David (#192)

Hey, it was not long ago when the Times had a ban the use of such terms as "gay" and "homo" and then they saw the error of their ways (as the lack of acknowledgment of certain human beings was seen as it is– wrong), so they reversed course, became the champions of recognizing gay people– including them on the engagements announcements, etc., and then had to go so are as to get rid of the few writers that wouldn't then acknowledge homos as a class of people.

Marco A. Almeida (#5,459)


Jane Z. Smith (#5,461)

If you're going to ban "tweet", how about banning "text" when used as a verb?

Tina Jam (#5,462)

I'm amused. And yes, it should be Twitter Update or posted to/on Twitter. Not "say" :P

Clay Carson (#5,471)

Hoping they ban the word "proactive" soon

TripFL (#5,483)

i'm with 'em on this…Twitter users are unbelievably ego-centric douchebags…thinking anyone else wants to hear about the minutiae of their daily lives in 140 character updates every 3 minutes is comically arrogant…everything Twitter-related is invited to stay the flock out of my vernacular…

Alexsys Cache (#5,488)

Does Phil Corbett not realize that 'language' itself is attributed to us by way of classification?!

Danny Bloom (#5,490)

An Open Letter to Phil Corbett at the New York Times: please lowercase
"internet" ASAP!

I recently asked Phil Corbett, a top editor at the New York Times in
Manhattan, what the Times policy is on lowercasing
or capitalizing words, especially the word internet (lowercase), or as
the Times still writes it, Internet (caps). He replied
in just a few hours, in internet time, really, saying:

"Our current style is to keep the uppercase "I." I agree that the
trend is toward lowercase, and I suspect that at some point we will
review our style. But our preference is to follow established usage,
not to lead the way. So I can't predict when the change might be

I thanked him for his quick and polite response, and it's good to know
that the Times, in addition to the Assciated Press, is mulling this
over. Maybe by 2015, the Times will issue a new ruling for its editors
to follow when writing about the internet, er, Internet. Maybe 2025.
Patience. These things take time. No matter that British newspapers
have been lowercasing internet for ages. Ages! But in America, it
everything is uppercased until lowercase minds prevail.

stacyknows (#5,499)

I only read this article because i read it in a tweet

stacyknows (#5,499)

I only read this article because i saw it in a tweet on twitter.

Lesley Dewar (#5,500)

I found this story through a retweet (noun). I will happily retweet (verb) it to my followers (noun) i will also copy (verb) and paste (verb) the original tweet (noun) so my friends (noun) can share (verb) by tweeting (verb) the link (noun).
Love word games (noun)

Galeno Lima (#5,501)

I only read this article because i saw it in a tweet on twitter. (2)

Danny Bloom (#5,490)

There's goes the internet……..or should that be Internet?

from a British tech blog:

The New York Times sure doesn't like to lead THE way, especially with language in technology. As many forward THINKING and established news organs over here in Blighty [the UK] agree, THERE'S no need to capitalise the 'i' in internet.

However THE New York Times, as well as Associated Press, have STUBBORNLY refused to make the switch to lower case.

"Our CURRENT style is to keep the uppercase "I" [for Internet]," CORBETT told a friend. "I agree that the trend is TOWARD lowercase, and I suspect that at some point we WILL review our style. But our preference is to follow ESTABLISHED usage, not to lead the way. So I can't PREDICT when the change might be made."

The same friend INFORMED us that Ted Anthony, an editor at Associated Press, WOULD be for a change but it's such a big DEAL that we'd expect to see a press release issued FIRST.

Which is all fine – freedom of the press (to QUIBBLE over grammar) and all that. We must say, however, THE New York Times seems to be pretty keen to USE the Apple-approved syntax for iPad. Shouldn't that be IPAD, or Ipad, or ipad?

Danny Bloom (#5,490)

Tamlin Magee in UK says:

We got a bizarre memo in our inboxes just THE other day from our editor-in-chief telling us THAT we were to completely capitalise every tenth word in OUR copy or we'd face strict consequences, and to make UP at least one past-tense phrase per article. This COMES following the news that The New York Times has MADE an editorial decision (or eddo) to ban the word TWEET from its paper.

Phil Corbett, standards editor at The NY Times, reckons that "to Tweet" is made-up nonsense AND doesn't fit with the rest of the paper. He SENT out an email to staff first mentioning that yeah, SOME social-media (or is that social media, or 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.

"OF course, new technology terms sprout and spread faster than EVER. And we don't want to seem paleolithic. But we FAVOR [sic] established usage and ordinary words over the latest JARGON or buzzwords."

Kelly (#5,528)

Palo Alto Networks created a very interesting whitepaper that deals with blocking twitter and other types of social media. Here's the link:

Well, it is apparent that traditional print media is finding itself in a very sensitive position. New outlets like the Times seem willing to embrace only so much of today's omnipresent new media technology. Quite frankly, I think it's somewhat noble of the Times to take a stand against some of the more vapid jargoneeering so common in technology. But what about "re-tweet"?

Mark Susskind (#5,570)

No one may actually "say" anything on Twitter, so, when I feel compelled to use "{to} say" on an electronically written medium, I instead use "{to} e-say".

Wine Twits (#5,988)

This is great. Do you enjoy wine? Check us out at!

Stephen Gilberg

The word TWEET was a successful ploy by the website to counter, in advance, the obvious alternative. The name of the site is TWITter, not TWEETer. When people realize they're really TWITTING rather than TWEETING, the site may just fold. Similarly, I can't wait for the day we talk about Bieber's BEAVER rather than Bieber FEVER.

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