Sunday, September 20, 2009

Twitterary allusions

Please read this entire column, whether you hate Twitter, love Twitter or don’t even know what Twitter is. The reason I’m writing to you about Twitter is this: I want to offer periodic advice on language via Twitter, and you can help make it happen.

It’s a challenge, you see, to write helpful notes about language in the teeny space that Twitter postings, known as “tweets,” allow: 140 characters maximum. That counts all letters, spaces, punctuation, etc. It makes one work a little bit to distill thoughts all the way down to the essence … similar to haiku, perhaps. (Forgive me if I sound all in a twitter.) Let me give you some sample tweets that I’ve already posted on Twitter — see what you think.

“Prices on the New York Stock Exchange rose higher yesterday.” Of course they rose higher; could they have risen lower?

Do you see how it works? Short, if not sweet. Here’s another one.

Which is correct - it's "a lot" [2 words] of fun, or it's "alot" [no such word] of fun? There's your answer.

Each of those is pithy (yeth indeed), and necessarily so. Look at two more, and then we’ll talk.

Do letters get an "s" or an apostrophe and an "s" for plurals? Singles get apostrophes (your p's and q's vs. the POs and two Ph.D.s).

Journalists get this one right, generally, but nonjournies do not. Ready? Under way, two words.

Please know that I am neither endorsing nor complaining about Twitter. What I am saying is that if enough of you sign up to “follow” me, then I’ll know that Twitter is a good way to pass along my language tidbits, and I’ll happily craft and post language tweets regularly.

Shoot — just stick your toe in. If you don’t like it, stop.

Yes, many people grouse at the very thought of Twitter. “If I want to know every time people eat a bagel, I’ll ask them” is a common kind of complaint. By the uninitiated, I might add. Here’s the way one tweeter, a young British comic, tweeted to make fun of that kind of posting:

I have my knees in my T-shirt, stretching it to a more desirable size. Stay tuned to my Twitter for more developments as they happen.

As I said, that’s a joke. If you encounter someone who really is mundane, simply stop following that person. The people and organizations I follow on Twitter tell me useful things — I follow news organizations and newsmakers to find out breaking news far ahead of stories on the wire services, for instance. Millions of people follow various celebrities for various reasons. You can keep up with your relatives if they’re tweeting. And, of course, you can send your own messages. Say your spouse is hospitalized, and friends and relatives want constant updates. Tweets can provide that, instantaneously and for free.

Here — have two more samples of my language tweets.

Bellwether = mix of bell and wether, a castrated male sheep, from the practice of hanging a bell from the neck of the flock leader.

Header in today's paper re BOA: 'Backing out of the deal might have lead to ouster ... .' Try not to use a metal (lead) for the verb (led).

Ready to sign up? It’s extremely simple to do. The whole process is free, and getting started truly takes only a few seconds. Simply go to and fill in the blanks to join. Then add writermike as someone to follow, and we’re set.

To update the James Taylor lyric, how tweet it is.


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