Media websites had their feathers ruffled recently over an instruction supposedly given by Philip B Corbett, standards editor for The New York Times, to journalists working for that newspaper.
In one of those all-too-familiar cyber-generated pieces of misinformation, it was reported far and wide that Corbett had banned the word “tweet” from the newspaper – unless it was in reference to birds.
“Some social media fans may disagree, but outside of ornithological contexts, ‘tweet’ has not yet achieved the status of standard English,” Corbett apparently instructed staff. “And standard English is what we should use in news articles.”
A tweet-free New York
“When is a tweet not a tweet? When it’s in The New York Times,” exclaimed Wired. “Standards editor Phil Corbett wants a tweet-free New York Times,” reckoned Media Bistro.
“New York Times readers who come across the word ‘tweet’ will know they are reading about birds, at least for the foreseeable future,” said website The Awl, which – to be fair – followed up a few days later to give Corbett’s side of the story.
Do tweets have staying power …
Tweet, whether used as a verb for the act of sending a Twitter message or a noun for the message itself, is a colloquialism, a neologism and jargon, said Corbett. “The Times tries to avoid words that are any one of those things, let alone all three.”
Corbett – whose After Deadline style column is a regular must-read for me, said the word had appeared 18 times in a single month in the NYT.
He also wondered if ‘tweets’ had staying power in their social media context.
… Or will they fade into oblivion?
“Someday, ‘tweet’ may be as common as ‘e-mail’,” he wrote. “Or another service may elbow Twitter aside next year, and ‘tweet’ may fade into oblivion.”
It isn’t a blanket ban, Corbett explained after the flurry of reports appeared. In fact, what he said all along, before he was rudely misinterpreted, was that it (‘tweet’) “can be used for special effect, or in places where a colloquial tone is appropriate, but should not be used routinely in straight news articles”.
The worrisome word, he said, “may be acceptable occasionally … 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’.”
Good advice, I reckon.