To tweet or not to tweet? That is no longer the question at the New York Times. Standards Editor Phil Corbett has issued a fatwa against the colloquialism that has become both noun and verb as a referent to an entry on the micro-blogging site Twitter.
He does have a point about the inherent silliness of the word which could make the Twitter message of even the most august U.S. senator seem trivial.
Here is Corbett’s memo to the paper’s staff:
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.”