Saturday, June 19, 2010

Tweetgate, Cont'd: Columnist Gail Collins Tweaks NYT Twit With Sneaky, Not-Yet-Banned Use Of "Twitter" As A Verb.

You all remember the NYT's June 9 "ban" on the use of the word "tweet" in the paper, right?

That's when NYT standards editor Philip Corbett issued a now-notorious memo strongly discouraging reporters from the use of the word "tweet" in news stories. "Outside of ornithological contexts," the NYT's reigning style functionary harrumphed, “'tweet' has not yet achieved the status of standard English."

Corbett denounced the word's use as a noun or verb, and offered various awkward and arcane alternatives:

“Tweet” may be acceptable occasionally for special effect. 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.”

But wait, Corbett didn't say anything about "twitter" itself as a verb!

Seizing this sliver of an opportunity, op-ed columnist Gail Collins has boldly inserted the verb into her column this morning, seemingly daring some more douchebaggery (sorry, Phil!) from the man who also, last week, took the "shit" out of White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel's "shit sandwich."

Here's the not-the-slightest-bit-offending passage from Collins:

While the startled Chu started to talk about shifting tectonic plates, Barton beamed smugly. “I seem to have baffled the Energy Sec with basic question: where does oil come from?” he twittered.

This is fun. We'd love to see more tenured NYT reporters and columnists engage in this modest form of civil disobedience, by finding new ways to skirt the absurdly antiquated rules that still govern the NYT in the 21st century.

You go, Gail!

10 comments:

adm said...

no link?

Anonymous said...

While I think it's all fun and good for Ms. Collins to exercise her right as a writer to tweak the nose of the editors, I think it's a mistake to grouse about the goal to speak with a unified voice. There's a big difference between the NYT and a pile of blogs. Part of that difference is existence of people like Mr. Corbett trying to create a unity of experience. I realize it's a pain to free thinkers, but it makes life easier for readers when the reporters try to work together.

Anonymous said...

The editorial writers and columnists can use whatever words they want -- or style. Newsroom editors have absolutely no say on the style and word usage on the editorial pages. Maybe Gail Collins does indeed think the newsroom style is silly and was mocking it. But by using whatever words she wants to, she's not exercising any civil disobedience because the guidelines don't apply to her in the first place. If the editorial and op-ed editors decide they want to publish the entire pages in French, they can. If they want to violate every rule in the stylebook, they can. Newsroom editors have absolutely no say in what they do.

For a site devoted exclusively to the NYTimes, you often times are poorly informed. Do some reporting. Or find some sources in the newsroom who actually know how the place operates.

Anonymous said...

I came in to say what that last anonymous said. Gail's a columnist (more or less the only one worth reading in today's NYT) and she can do what she wants.

Also, I hope you didn't miss the great avoidance of the f and s words in the last two paragraphs of today's article on Elena Kagan's emails. Great stuff.

Anonymous said...

The problem with telling Times writers that they should not use the term 'tweet' or other terms that have become commonplace in the online world is that it keeps Times READERS --many of whom are older and not quick to adopt new technology--
ignorant of this vocabulary and even more disadvantaged than they already are when they finally decide to try these new media for themselves. As a former copy editor myself I support efforts to keep technical jargon out of news articles, but new phenomena need new terminology to describe them and to anyone who follows new media closely the substitutes sound just a bit off.

Anonymous said...

Aforementioned user types, who are not inclined to take part in this particular new medium, but do have a rather exclusive textual relationship with the NYT in that they notice craft and have an expectation to catch up on the latest, might still find a transiently circulated verb irrelevant.

In general such terms diminish in terms of frequency as more suitable substitutes are relied upon, though the columnist’s just emphasis on an impulsive act does not exactly wreck a rigid mandate.

To blurb is a less choppy, versatile and yet not indiscriminate verb that can represent a communiqué issued to selective followers by ‘the blabber’ via any media with etiquette toward unweeded transmission, including email, Facebook™, basic text message, etc. To share, to blurt out, to chirp, to quip, and to jot are among countless others.

Anthony said...

What should be kept in mind is that the word "tweet" is not some natural, evolutionary use of language--like, say, the gradual use of the word "email" as a verb. The word "tweet" is a proprietary trademark of Twitter, and the company has promoted its use in place of other, more obvious alternatives--unlike the generic use of "google" as a synomym for "search," which Google itself is unhappy with.

So I sympathize with the Times' perspective on this one. Not only is "tweet" not established English (in fact, most people I know who use twitter don't use the word "tweet"), it is a corporate term being actively promoted (and protected) by a corporate entity.

NYTPicker should stand behind the Times' refusal to offer what is in effect free corporate advertising for Twitter.

Anonymous said...

What about internet as lowercase noun? When will the Times allow that?

It’s a small thing, really. Whether or not to capitalize the word ‘Internet’ is not the kind of issue that boils the blood or starts a war. And yet, it is important, and the time has come to take that capital I out of this utterly ubiquitous word.
When we capitalize a word, we signify it as something special or unique. But there is nothing very special about the internet now. As this year’s group of college graduates will attest, the internet is as big a deal as television. Ho-hum. (To many of them the internet is television, but that is a subject for another time.)
Proper names are capitalized, including brand names of products. But as Joseph Turow, author of Niche Envy, points out, we should not think of the internet as the kind of brand-name item that its capitalization suggests. Capitalizing ‘internet’ makes it seem like the internet is a private zone that we must buy into or rent, as if we are visiting Disney World. Of course, the internet itself (which was largely created by public funding) is owned by no one in particular, which has been—and will hopefully continue to be—one of the intriguing things about it. We have already realized that many features of the internet are not words to capitalize; we already use lower-case letters for words like web, e-mail, online, blog and cyberspace. And yet, ‘Internet’ remains with us.
The situation can be compared with America in the late 19th century, when it was not difficult to find the word ‘phonograph’ capitalized; the capital p then seemed to indicate that there was something new about the word, something very different about the experiences we would associate with this device. The internet has been shrouded in the same sense of novelty, to which the capital ‘I’ testifies. Perhaps this lingering sense of novelty owes to the internet’s seemingly strange lack of an obvious physical presence. Unlike television, radio, or the phonograph, the internet is not a box you can place in your living room. We connect to the internet through the use of computers and some connecting line or wireless device, but these boxes and wires don’t contain the internet, they only act as connections to, or displays for, the internet. At the same time, the internet does not come from a specified place, as do television and radio broadcasts; to connect to the internet is very different from switching on the local news.
However, this novelty of the internet has quickly faded. Younger Americans do not approach the internet as something new or special; it has become no more or less than another part of their day-to-day experience. In this sense, the internet has become part of the background. Like tap water, it can be simply turned on or off. Even without the long-promised convergence of internet with other media, the internet has managed to converge with the everyday lives of an entire generation. The time of novelty—the time when it might be understandable to capitalize ‘internet’—has passed.
The persistence of the upper-case I is largely a product of newspaper publishers (many of whom didn’t capitalize ‘television’ or ‘radio’ when those media were new) and dictionary editors, who are perhaps waiting for there to be some change in usage before they change their prescribed sense of how ‘internet’ is to be spelled. But for internet users (many of whom do not capitalize any words as they type away in chat rooms and blogs) the internet is no longer novel, no mere trend or gadget, and while it is especially useful it is certainly not in need of special treatment. In this sense, then, it is up to us. A switch to ‘internet’ will not solve all of our problems, but it may reflect that we are now ready to absorb this medium, and truly make it our own.

ryan said...

She did it again! "General McChrystal's Twitters"

Surely that would have been his "tweets," right?

Anonymous said...

Re: 'She did it again! "General McChrystal's Twitters" '

Maybe she's just trying to follow our cherished leader, who on a visit to that company this week used the same incorrect term as its name.