As some of you know, I am on Twitter (@sesquiotic). Twitter allows you to post publicly, for the benefit of anyone who follows your feed or looks you up, messages of up to 140 characters each. This is not very much, and the terseness can lead to tenseness; Twitter is often like communicating in Morse code using car horns. So sometimes I will tweet sequences of tweets so I can fit in a larger thought. Instead of a message here about something, a message there about something else, I send out a spate of messages, six or ten or fourteen in a row, all in a sequence on a specific topic.
I’m certainly not the only person to do this. Actually, many tweeters do it from time to time. Some do it a lot. @HeerJeet practically specializes in it, numbering the tweets so they can be followed. He and some others of those who send such sequences call them Twitter essays.
The thing is, even if you send 14 tweets, that’s still less than 300 words. We’re talking about an “essay” that is less than a page. It’s a short essay, more like a fleshy thought. And on Twitter it’s experienced as a sudden burst of tweets, like a spring shower, a flash flood… a spate.
Yes, I think spate is the word we need here. It’s a word we get from Scots English, a word that may be related to spout. It referred first to a sudden flood, as from a heavy rain (we’ve had a few of those in recent years in Toronto, thanks in part to more extreme weather, and in part to paving over too damn much so the ground doesn’t absorb the rain before it flows into the sewers). It can also refer to a sudden and/or heavy rainstorm.
Or, more often, to a sudden intense pouring forth of something that comes in individual instances: a spate of books, attacks, bombings, shootings, incidents, mergers, murders, kidnappings, suicides, lawsuits; occasionally it refers to mass objects such as violence or publicity. But it is more often the raindrops than the flooding creek.
The sound of the word is so suggestive. Listen to its echoes: spit, spat, spout, spurt, also spite and spot. A spate can erupt from your pate until you are sated. What comes in a spate is no paste, nor is it even-paced. If it is words, it is a spatter of expatiation. And then, as quickly as it began, it is done.