Saturday, June 12, 2010

A Grammar Nazi Saute to Tas Anjarwalla

You know as well as the Grammar Nazi knows that the debate over English is do we let the language drive us, or do we drive the language.

Right now, it seems the New York Times is putting "official" language in the drivers' seat as they forbid the word "tweet" in the Gray Lady, with typical word-snob aplomb, since the word is still acceptable inside "ornithological" contexts.

They do have a leg to stand on, as the following definition of the word tweet: Tweet is both a noun and verb, both used in relation to To tweet is to send a message on Twitter. A tweet is also a message send on Twitter.

The New York Times' reason for forbidding the word is comical. I'll let Tas Anjarwalla, "special to CNN," explain:
"Someday, 'tweet' may be as common as 'e-mail,' " wrote Phil Corbett, the Times' standards editor, in a memo this week, according to The Awl. But, for now, Corbett has nixed further use of the word -- "outside of ornithological contexts," he wrote.

The Times will stop using the word because "tweet" isn't standard English, "and standard English is what we should use in news articles," Corbett said.

Corbett noted that not everyone uses the micro-blogging site and therefore may not be familiar with what a "tweet" is.

Fair enough. But in a simple sentence-length rejoinder that earns Anjarwalla a Grammar Nazi salute, she takes the air out of Corbett's "standard English" and familiarity arguments:
After all, The New York Times always uses words people are familiar with, like "louche" and "shibboleths."
Oh, Shibboleths. Anjarwalla, keep on smackin' them out of the park.

Part of me understands the NYT's later explanation in expunging the word tweet. In many cases, it's a gimmick, a reporter's crutch for saying, hey, I'm cutting edge -- I'm researching on Twitter, which is akin to saying, hey, I'm cutting-edge, I'm exploring the ocean depths by exploring Google Maps. Corbett advises writers to use words like "says," or "writes," after one has established that the medium being used is Twitter, because to say tweet over and over again does push the story into ornithological territory. I'm not one who likes to read authors who use thesauruses rather than the word "says" in recounting dialogue or quotes, because the flowers get in the way. It's clutter. And while it's asinine for the NYT to insist on banning tweet, it's just as silly for reporters to rely overmuch on the word.

Note: Links in the pulled quotes are from

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