In a word

Tweet

Mon, Feb 24, 2014, 17:05

It is truth universally acknowledged that a word ever associated with the trivial, will forever be in want of gravitas. It is why tweet still sounds ridiculous.

When I first heard it used in the more contemporary sense, as in “a tweet”, what spontaneously came to mind was an image of some poor bird (feathered kind) forever suspended in a tight moment of suspended animation as it uttered a single slight sound.

“Tweet” was what birds (feathered kind) did when I was growing up. It was what Tweety Bird did in those cartoons as he tried to escape the relentless attentions of the forever famished “puddy tat”, Sylvester.

Indeed, in one of my favourite of those cartoons, Sylvester wrestles with his Good Cat, Bad Cat conscience over his addiction to birds (feathered kind) until, inevitably, he caves in pleading “. . . just one more”.

So much like very many Twitter users (all kinds) today. And then there was the college party piece of a late friend, the song Rockin’ Robin.

“He rocks in the tree tops all day long

Hoppin’ and a-boppin’ and singing his song

All the little birdies on Jaybird Street

Love to hear the robin go tweet tweet tweet

Rockin’ robin, tweet tweet tweet

Rockin’ robin’ tweet tweetly-tweet

Blow rockin’ robin

‘Cause we’re really gonna rock tonight”

As chorus, the rest of us specialised in “tweet

tweet tweet . . . tweet tweetly-tweet”.

With such history how could anyone be expected to take words like tweet or twitter seriously? Lord, I have tried. Then along comes twibel. Haven’t heard?

Last month in California, and for the first time, it was decided that a case of alleged libel on Twitter should go to trial. As a US lawyer observed breathlessly, “tweeting in California can potentially give rise to liability under the theory of defamation”.

You could almost see the dollar signs in his eyes.

The accused is singer-actress Courtney Love who is alleged to have defamed her lawyer on Twitter, hence what US media dubbed twibel.

All of this is not yet eight years old. Twitter was launched in July 2006. Creator Jack Dorsey told the Los Angeles Times how the name came about. They looked in a dictionary and “we came across the word ‘twitter’, and it was just perfect.

The definition was ‘a short burst of inconsequential information’, and ‘chirps from birds’. And that’s exactly what the product was.”

Tweet, tweet!

inaword@irishtimes.com

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