Twitter is Changing Language

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One of the most intimidating parts of learning to use Twitter is the lingo. Confronted by words like “retweet,” “hashtag” and the “Twittersphere,” new users often find themselves wondering:

“What language are these people speaking?”

English, as it turns out – Twitter is just changing the way we speak it, adding new vocabulary words and even influencing the way people talk and write when they aren’t using the service. No less an authority than the Oxford Dictionary just added the words “Twittersphere” and “ZOMG” to the lexicon, according to Time Magazine.

Meanwhile, digital anthropologist Brian Solis observes that the popular social networking service  is also changing the way people communicate outside of Twitter, even offline:

“At some point, a chasm emerges between those who use Twitter and those who do not. In other channels where Twitter users and other non-users are connected, for example email or text messaging,  the culture of conversation becomes noticeably divergent. To begin with, Twitter users, like texters, are groomed to speak with brevity.”

Then, there’s the hashtag. On Twitter, users often affix the pound sign and a word or short phrase to the end of their tweets. These “hashtags” help organize the chaos of the Twittersphere, making it possible to find out what people are saying about certain topics.  That’s the official purpose at least, but people often use them to attach ironic commentary to their tweets as well.

Hashtags, too, have now escaped the confines of Twitter. You’ll see them in articles on newspapers and in magazines, and they’ve even, somewhat awkwardly, made it into our speech. The New York Times notes that “Hashtags have also made their way into the vernacular.” and quotes Ginger Wilcox of the Social Media Marketing Institute, who said, “Because of the use of hashtags, you can use one word to describe something and it’s kind of a mental hashtag. So it’s like, ‘Awkward!’ or “Winning!’ And yes, definitely ‘Fail.’ For that one I often hear ‘Pound fail.’