I know it’s embarrassing, but really, go ahead and say it right now. Actually, forget that and just read this next sentence out loud:
“Did you see Obama’s Tweet about the situation in Syria?”
How did that feel? Kind of embarrassing? Kind of like you can’t really believe you said it out loud, right? And it wasn’t the fact that you know nothing about international politics, couldn’t find Syria on a Google map search, or had a hard time not calling him President Barack Hussein Obamacare.
It was the word tweet.
I was driving across the Golden Gate Bridge when I heard NPR’s uber-intellectual radio host, Michael Krasny, use the word for the first time in his career. I could hear the agony in his voice when he said: “Or tweet us at @NPRForum.” It sounded like he was trying to pass a verbal kidney stone.
The word tweet never fails to catch my ear. It also never fails to sound consistently ridiculous. And I hear it more and more, and more, and more. Whether watching TV or listening to the radio, in overheard conversations or the ones I’m having, the word is being used with increasing frequency.
We’ve all heard the cliche that “it’s better to be lucky than good,” and when it comes to Twitter’s billion dollar brand, that’s partially true. There’s no doubt that Twitter is indeed an “incredibly powerful real-time information sharing network which has transformed communication.” I wonder if the company would be as ubiquitous, though, had it not stumbled upon the word tweet? As we all know, “tweet” was inducted as both a noun and a verb into the canonical Oxford English Dictionary in 2013. Even the almighty “google” has failed to reach that milestone.
And the best part is that the word wasn’t created by some swanky South of Market ad agency. It wasn’t part of a marketing plan “project” developed by some sucker Stanford grad students doing free labor under the guise of “real world experience.”
According to Silicon Valley lore, it first morphed from “Twitter update” to “twit” because a third-party developer (let us call him The Accidental Tweetist) thought the existing language was “too wordy” and “boring,” but was probably due to an excessive intake of Red Bull butting up against an overworked keyboard. It further evolved after a Twitter engineer came to the existential realization that it was better to be a “tweet” than a “twit.”
This happy accident turned out to be the best branding non-decision the company could have made, or not made, because in spite of the sheer alliteration of the word, it is also undeniably audible in just about every situation. It marries an incredibly simple and utilitarian product with the light and fluffy imagery that Twitter has gone on to embrace.
Upon flapping blue wings, the word tweet has alighted around the globe, the second most significantly feathered event of the last decade, close behind the spread of the Avian Flu.