002BTG — What’s a Word? AP Includes Twitter Terms.

Behind the Grammar, June 11, 2009

[I don’t intend to have a transcript of this show every week, but I kind of accidentally wrote one while I was waiting for my dryer to stop making noise and I was thinking about what I was going to say in this show. Notes lead to sentences, and the next thing you know you’ve got a script. It’s a slippery slope, I tell you!]

Today I’ll talk about the millionth English word, an update to the AP Stylebook, and social-media stuff.

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A few days ago a company decided they were going to declare that the millionth English word had been created, to which I said, “That’s a bunch of malarkey!” It’s an impossible task to pin down the exact number of words.

Let’s argue for an hour or so about whether “irregardless” is a word, for example. Would you consider “textbook” and “text” to be two different words? What about “canceled” and “cancelled”–the American and British spellings of the same word?

Then yesterday they named “Web 2.0” the actual millionth word. Seriously? Their criteria seems to be that if it shows up over 25,000 times in a search, it’s a word. I’m not even sure “Web 2.0” is a word. It seems more like a name or maybe a phrase to me. That is such a joke and an obvious PR stunt. The fact that they chose “Web 2.0” as the word just screams of a planned PR event–“We’ll choose ‘Web 2.0’ and then everyone will post about us on Twitter and Facebook.”  Actually, I’m starting to feel as if I’ve fallen into their PR trap by talking about it. Ick, I’m moving on.


In more credible language news, the AP Stylebook has issued a new, 2009 edition, which is always a nice reminder that language changes.

One reason is that new things are created, like Twitter. The AP has ruled on the verb form; how you should talk about posting a message to Twitter. Well, actually, they’ve waffled, because they say it can be either “to Twitter” or “to Tweet.” But in my experience, that reflects the common usage. The founders of Twitter have said they prefer “to Tweet,” but many people say they’ve Twittered.

What I’m most excited about is that they’ve addressed whether “Tweet” should be capitalized. The AP says to capitalize it. I capitalize verbs based on proper nouns, like Google–I Googled something–but it was never clear to me whether I could consider “Tweet” to actually be derived from the name “Twitter.” “To Twit” would have been clear, but “to Tweet” seemed a little distant. I probably would have said it wasn’t derived from Twitter and therefore shouldn’t be capitalized, but it’s still nice to have a ruling from an authority to refer to.

Language also changes as abbreviations become widely accepted. People have complained to me about others using “text” as a verb. They insist that you message someone or send them a text message, but the AP has now weighed in and says it is OK to use “text” as a verb. They say “text,” “texted” and “texting” are all OK.

There are a bunch of other changes and additions too, so I’ll put a link to the full press release on the Behind the Grammar website.


And now, because I’m about more than grammar, I’m going to talk about Twitter. I’ll probably talk about social media a lot in this podcast, because I spend a huge amount of time on Twitter and Facebook.

@greggscott posted a Tweet that had me outraged. He wrote, “Seriously, if you’re not prepared to instantly reply on Twitter, don’t be on Twitter. It’s like not answering the phone.”

Maybe I was just having a bad day, but my first thought was, “Instantly? Instantly‽ He’s got to be frickin’ kidding. I don’t get to go to lunch? I don’t get to go to a meeting? I don’t get to just step away from my computer?”

I speak to groups about social media, and I feel like it’s a always struggle to get them to accept that they need to respond quickly, that there is no weekend on Twitter. You can go away on Friday and have your brand destroyed by Monday if you’re not paying attention. So I get what Gregg is saying, but I thought it was extreme.

Well, it actually sounds as if he was having problems with a business providing customer service on Twitter that was taking days to get back to him. That’s a whole different thing. Absolutely, I agree that if you’re on Twitter providing tech support or something like that, yeah, you’d better get back to people quickly. The expectations on Twitter *are* different from the expectations on e-mail or a phone call. If a business can’t keep up, then I agree, they shouldn’t be on Twitter, and that’s why I’m sharing this story with you. Companies need to think things through before they set up a Twitter account. The Digital Marketer actually did a nice podcast about businesses on social media a little over a year ago. I’ll put a link to that at the website too. And Gregg clarified that he meant he expected a timely reply, not an instant reply. So I was able to stop being cranky and all is well.

That’s all. The website is behindthegrammar.com. If you like this show, please subscribe at iTunes, and subscribe to my other podcast there too: Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing.

Thanks for listening.

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5 Responses to 002BTG — What’s a Word? AP Includes Twitter Terms.

  1. Chris Patti says:

    I agree completely. Twitter is one of those fuzzy areas of modern life where the societal norms that define good manners or even acceptable behavior haven’t even begun to catch up.

    I know I’m not alone when I say that Twitter is something I only pay attention to sporadically. I have to work for a living, sleep, eat, and pay attention to my lovely wife 🙂

    There have been many times when I’ll tweet something, someone will reply later that day, and my reply to them happens the next morning.

    Even in the context of customer service – unless they explicitly say so in a service contract or the like there are no guarantees of a response on twitter.

    So while the dotted lines are being drawn and all remains fuzzy, if you really need a response in a timely fashion, pick up a telephone for goodness sake.

  2. I’m not sure about capitalising verbs derived from proper nouns. Are there many examples not related to t’interweb?

  3. I enjoyed your post (and podcast). May I offer a suggestion on the use of “criteria” in your fifth paragraph? “Criteria” is the plural of “criterion.” So, the sentence might begin, “Their criteria seem to be . . . ” or more precisely, “Their criterion seems to be . . . ”

    Anyway, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I discovered your podcast on iTunes, and look forward to future episodes and posts here.

  4. Mignon says:

    Hey, JD.

    I can’t think of many other instances of verbs being derived from proper nouns. The only one I can come up with is “Xerox.” People used to say they Xeroxed papers.

  5. Mignon says:

    Thanks, Perry.

    I’ll put “criteria” on my list of things to cover over at the Grammar Girl podcast or newsletter.

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