Tag Archives: Twitter

Words we love irrationally much

This article was originally published on The Editors’ Weekly, the blog of Editors Canada.

I asked people on Twitter about words they love irrationally much. I got quite a few responses. Actually, I got so many that when I tried to retweet them all, Twitter finally told me I had reached my daily tweet limit. And did again the next day.

The words that people love irrationally much are many and varied. But a few words came up again and again, and it’s interesting to see what they have in common. Continue reading


My latest article for The Week is on Hulkspeak, an idiom that has proven popular in some quarters, based on the locutionary style of The Incredible Hulk:

A linguist’s guide to HULK SMASH



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.


twit_a #wetinconcern spring with snow

twit_b @twit_a you got wet in the snow? or you’re wet because you’re concerned about the weather?

twit_a @twit_b no its a fun meme cresting now. click hashtag.

twit_b @twit_a i always thought hash tag was something you played when stoned. what’s the game with #wetinconcerned

twit_a @twit_b not concerned concern. take 2 things that don’t go together. it’s like what does x want with y

twit_a #wetinconcern x with y

twit_b @twit_a this does not make immediate sense. wet inconcern? = doesn’t matter?

twit_a @twit_b wetin concern. 2Face Idibia.

twit_a @twit_b see http://www.tribune.com.ng/sun/index.php/glitz/1724-wetin-concern-anybody-whether-i-marry-or-i-no-marry


twit_b @twit_a ok, i see, it’s like “what does it concern”. wait, looking up…

twit_b @twit_a nigerian pidgin. wetin = what is. see http://www.ngex.com/personalities/babawilly/dictionary/pidginw.htm

twit_b @twit_a so wetin concern = what business

twit_a @twit_b right, wetin concern Kim Kardashian with tastefulness

twit_b @twit_a wetin concern you with Kim Kardashian? wetin yua eye find go dia?

twit_b @twit_a seems like a fun game been around a while. see http://www.nairaland.com/nigeria/topic-3764.0.html – they’re playing it in 2005

twit_a @twit_b whats nigerian pidgin

twit_b @twit_a pidgin = a lingua franca for communicating functionally between two or more speech communities without a common language

twit_b @twit_a typically lower-status language provides the grammatical model (stripped down) and higher-status language provides the vocabulary (altered)

twit_b @twit_a just asked my african ling prof Bruce Connell, he says several Niger-Congo languages provide grammar substrate for Nigerian Pidgin

twit_a @twit_b ur goin all capital on me #wetinconcern me with academic fancy-pants

twit_b @twit_a istg twitter is like high school or junior high but at ten times speed

twit_b @twit_a it’s not even that wetinconcern is cresting today, it’s that it’s cresting this hour. it’s like watching two-year-olds with toys.

twit_b @twit_a i can’t get all wet in concern about it. i’d rather have a westin concern.

twit_b @twit_a wetin is just another bit of twine mixed up in the big ball of loose threads.

twit_a @twit_b yeah but look, it introduced u to nigerian pidgin

twit_b @twit_a #pointconceded

twit_a #wetinconcern ftw!

twit_c @twit_a #wetinconcern ftw wit what?

ftw = for the win
ofgs = oh for god’s sake
wetin yua eye find go dia = you should not be looking there/mind your own business (see http://www.ngex.com/personalities/babawilly/dictionary/pidginw.htm)

A new way to be a complete loser

I have just read an article in the New York Times, “The Self-Appointed Twitter Scolds,” about a set of people who have taken it on themselves to correct sloppy grammar on Twitter whenever and wherever they find it. Some even have automated programs that will send criticisms to complete strangers.

This is, perhaps, not surprising, but it is nonetheless disappointing. To think that there are people whose lives are so pathetically devoid of any sense of control or significance that they feel the need to dispense wholesale rudeness personally to anyone who fails to match their idea of grammatical perfection! These people need to go out and buy some manners. Even the cheap kind of manners they can get at discount stores will prevent this. This sort of behaviour is like walking down the sidewalk looking for people who are, for instance, wearing stripes with plaid, or even blue with green, and saying rude things to them about it.

I’ve said it before, and I will keep saying it: The rules of language are made to serve communication, not the other way around. The rules of grammar that we have are a codification of common practices that arose through actual usage, and the point of them is to give people a clear and consistent means of communicating with each other – so one human mind can reach out and come into contact with another human mind. Grammar is the means. The moment it is taken as the end, we have what is now commonly known as a FAIL. To use a Buddhist analogy, what these people are doing is like focusing on the finger rather than on the moon that it is pointing at.

Or let me use an analogy familiar to concert-goers. How often have you been at a concert, or the opera or ballet, and heard someone across the theatre going “SSSHHHHH!” at someone? Tell me, now, how often have you heard the person they were shushing? The SSSHHHHH is louder and more disruptive than what it aims to correct. It is a form of rudeness pretending to be a form of enforcement of politeness.

Likewise, while it may be bad manners to tweet in all caps, it is much worse manners to send a tweet to someone out of the blue carping on their use of all caps. And while making a lot of typos may be a little distracting and may seem to show imperfect concern for the reader, that’s hardly at the level of rudeness shown by those who tweet back complaining about them.

The truth is that no one is a perfect user of English all the time. It’s not really possible, since there are points of dispute such that some people will think one thing correct and others will think a different thing correct. But, more than that, English is not one language with the same rules and structures all the time. It has a variety of levels of usage appropriate to different contexts. (See “An appreciation of English: A language in motion” for some background.) It is as wrong to use formal locutions in a casual context as vice versa, for instance. And certain grammatical “errors” can be a good way to signal a casual, friendly context – don’t say it ain’t so.

More to the point, one thing I have never failed to observe is that anyone who is inclined to be hostile about other people’s grammar inevitably makes mistakes and has false beliefs about grammar. Often the very thing they’re ranting about they’re mistaken about (see “When an ‘error’ isn’t”). But beyond that, you can feel sure that they will get other things wrong even by the prescriptive standards they adhere to, be they idioms, points of grammatical agreement, or what have you. And you can feel entirely certain that they are utterly uneducated in linguistics, having false beliefs about, for instance, what is and isn’t a word.

Am I advocating an “anything goes” approach to grammar, whereby we toss out all the rules? Of course not. I’m a professional editor, after all. If you want to deliver a polished message, you want to make sure that it doesn’t have deviations that will distract or annoy people. There is a reason for having standards – we want to make sure we all have a point of reference so we can communicate with each other. But, again, the point of those standards is to serve communication, not the other way around. They are tools. They are not indicators of a person’s quality. An infraction of them causes no one injury.

And breaking grammatical rules is simply nowhere near as bad as being unspeakably rude to people about their use of grammar. Let it go, people. The English language is not being destroyed by people who make typos. The most damage that has been done to English has been done by people who appointed themselves its correctors.