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Did I Tweet or Did I Twitter?

Updates from the 2009 AP Stylebook.

By
Mignon Fogarty,
June 20, 2009

Did I Tweet or Did I Twitter?

Today I have exciting language news from the new 2009 AP Stylebook.

Last week the Associated Press released the updated 2009 edition of its famous AP Stylebook. This is the language rule book used by all the journalists in the Associated Press and by many other writers, so when they make a recommendation such as approving of a new use of a word or changing a preferred spelling, it quickly becomes widespread. People often ask me why English changes over time, and new rulings by influential organizations such as the AP are part of the force behind that change.

To Twitter or To Tweet?

I'll talk about a few of the changes, but I think the most exciting part of the new release has been the confusion over how to write about posting a message to the social networking site Twitter. The Twitter founders have commented in the past that they prefer to say "tweet," but in a poll I conducted back in September, nearly half the people preferred to say they Twitter. With the amount of media attention Twitter has been getting recently, it's not surprising that the AP would weigh in on the question, and their new entry reflects the divide in common usage. They state that the verb forms are to Twitter OR to tweet; journalists can use whichever word they prefer.

The interesting thing though is that there is an error in the Stylebook and in the press release. The press release was issued on Thursday, June 11, and it had both words -- "Twitter" and "tweet" -- capitalized. I commented at the time that this seemed odd. Verbs are capitalized when they are derived from proper nouns. Since Twitter is the name of the company, and therefore a proper noun, it makes sense that "Twitter" would be capitalized when it's used as a verb, but I thought "tweet" should be lowercase because it's not directly derived from the company name. It turns out I was right. Mark Allan, known as @editorMark online, alerted me that the AP had issued an update. The AP editors meant for "tweet" to be lowercase, and I'm not the only one who noticed the error.

According to Poynter Online, Colleen Newvine, who manages the AP Twitter account, followed along as people voiced their disapproval on Twitter and the AP editors met and decided to issue an official change. Sally Jacobson, the Deputy Managing Editor at the Associated Press, told me that the capitalization of 'tweet' was "an error [that] slipped through our editing net." On Monday, June 15, the AP sent an e-mail update about the change to their online subscribers and Jacobson told me the error will be fixed in the next printing of the book.

Errors can happen, but kudos to the AP for handling it quickly.

As an aside, I'm a very heavy Twitter user; you can follow me at twitter.com/grammargirl.

Another listener, Douglas Cootey who goes by @SplinteredMind on Twitter, asked if I can resolve the grand debate on what to call people who Twitter--twits, tweeters, tweeps, or Twitterers. Sorry, Douglas, I can't. The AP didn't address that one, and I believe it's something that people on Twitter have to work out for themselves. The way it usually works is that a term or terms will emerge from the pack and then the "authorities" sanction it by including it in their publications, which answers the question of another user, @dawn_armfield, who wanted to know why the AP gets to decide. She wrote, "I'm not sure why we should allow the AP to define how we, who've been on Twitter since early on, describe what we do." I think it's too strong to say that the AP decides or defines what to call what we do. Usually they are just giving their approval to uses that are already common.

The Verb To Text

Which leads me to the next notable addition to the 2009 AP Stylebook: the addition of "text" as a verb. I often receive messages from angry people who think the verb should be "message" instead of "text" because "text" is just a modifier that descibes the kind of message people are sending. For example, they think we should say, "I messaged you," instead of "I texted you." It's a perfectly logical stance, but to say you are texting or you texted is so widespread that I've always thought it was a losing battle, and now the AP has sanctioned the use. "Text" as a verb is out of the bottle, and it's not going back.

Cesarean

The final change I'll comment on is a spelling change. The AP used to recommend spelling cesarean section, c-A-e-s-a-r-e-a-n instead of c-e-s-a-r-e-a-n. It's an Americanization, many words are spelled with an "ae" in British English but an "e"in American English, and Jacobson from the AP said, "We changed our style on the spelling of 'cesarean' to conform to the spelling now preferred by medical groups and government agencies."

Again, I think it's interesting to note that the style guides don't lead in the changes to our language, but instead reflect changes that have already taken root in the world.

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Finally, if you want to get Grammar Girl or any of the other great Quick and Dirty Tips streamed to your iPhone or Blackberry, check out the apps at Stitcher.com. Make sure you check out The Winning Investor's Quick and Dirty Tips for Beating the Market, hosted by Andrew Horowitz. 

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