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New York Times bans 'tweet'

'Outside of ornithological contexts,' that is

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Writers at the New York Times were recently requested to stop referring to Twitter updates as "tweets" by the Gray Lady's standards editor, Phil Corbett.

With the internet causing radical upheavals in newspapers across the world, it is reassuring to find at least one that's prepared to stick to its guns.

In an electronic mail message that was line-cast by Mr Corbett himself using a personal computer keyboard, he insisted that "outside of ornithological contexts, 'tweet' has not yet achieved the status of standard English. And standard English is what we should use in news articles."

He continues: "Except for special effect, we try to avoid colloquialisms, neologisms and jargon. And 'tweet' — as a noun or a verb, referring to messages on Twitter — is all three. Yet it has appeared 18 times in articles in the past month, in a range of sections."

Corbett is not being completely unreasonable — he recognizes that new words come and go: "Of course, new technology terms sprout and spread faster than ever. And we don't want to seem paleolithic. But we favor established usage and ordinary words over the latest jargon or buzzwords."

However he would like to see people use "deft, English alternatives: use Twitter, post to or on Twitter, write on Twitter, a Twitter message, a Twitter update." Besides, "it doesn't help that the word itself seems so inherently silly".

It seems churlish to point out that the reason newspapers are having massive financial difficulties at the moment is because they seem incapable of adjusting to a modern world in which information is created and exchanged publicly by a vastly increased number of publishers.

For a newspaper of record it must be particularly harrowing for the NYT to discover that that "record" has already been downloaded, remixed — and, yes, tweeted — by the time it appears on its hallowed pages.

As lexicographers have been discovering, the explosion of information-sharing encouraged by simple publishing on services such as Twitter means that new words arrive, gain acceptance, and also disappear faster than ever. To pretend otherwise would be, well, inherently silly.

Not that Corbett is writing off "tweet" forever. "Someday, 'tweet' may be as common as 'e-mail',” he helpfully points out.

Apart from the fact that the Gray Lady still insists on hyphenating "email" — presumably on the belief that people still understand it as "electronic mail" — we have no doubt that the NYT is demonstrating exactly the kind of steady hand that is needed in these difficult times.

As we understand, the Times of London and the Financial Times have also followed suit in banning use the word 'tweet'. Unfortunately, since all their "Web log writers" are now stuck behind an "electronic payment barrier" we can't confirm whether that is in fact true. ®

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