Why are our postings to twitter called tweets instead of twits? I mean who can really express anything meaningful in 140 characters? Other than a few numb clichés. I was reading the Phantom tollbooth the other day with my daughter and I am reminded of the Which in the dungeon of Dictionopolis. “Brevity is the soul of wit” “Silence is golden” (or for those who remember the original daffy duck “silence is foo”). “it is often a crime to use too many words to express oneself but it’s often a bigger crime to use too few” (wait, that might be backwards). If a picture is worth a thousand words, then an Instagram is worth 7.14 tweets. Or twits.
I was riding the bus home the other day and I noticed that no one was smiling. A bus full of frowns and indifferent resignation. But of all the folks on the bus, more than half were nose down in a phone. Or a tablet. Or a laptop. I guess I can understand that. It kinda smelled.
When I was in college, I used to conduct an informal survey around the campus by asking people which they thought was more powerful: the written word or the spoken word. I found you could tell a lot about people by their answer. Were they more relational, logical? Considering the moment, or thinking about the long term. I suppose now I have to update the question and ask: which is more powerful: the tweeted word or the facebooked word. Is the tweet more powerful than the sword? Or, I suppose, the unmanned predator drone. (but let’s not get political here) How many of our historical philosophers would have had a twitter account? Socrates? The best we might have gotten is “dust, wind, dude”. Yea, no one gets it. My favorite twitter account is @TheMime. All his tweets are “. . .” Somehow I think Socrates would have approved.
I am often accused of talking too much, but language is our thing. Why not use it? Expression is what sets us apart. We can reflect the beauty, the horror, the anguish, the joy, the fullness of the human experience (Oh lord, now I sound like some new-age, self-help book). Language doesn’t take any special talent or skill. I could draw you a map of how to get to my house, but you’d probably end up in the middle of Moscow. (Idaho, or Russia. With my drawing skills, could be either one.) But I can write out directions for you, or tell you how to get there and you might just actually make it. Language is what gives us voice, so why tether it? (Isn’t that an iPhone commercial?)
So what is the point? Didn’t Thoreau say “Simplify, simplify, simplify”? (Wouldn’t it have been simpler to just say it once?) When I was learning to write professionally, the mantra I was taught was concise and simple. Remember, KISS (the acronym, not the rock group). Our language evolves and it’s through the mechanics of the technology of the time that drives the evolution. Think of the impact that the printing press had on language. So maybe soon “why” and “you” and “are” will be reduced to just one letter. Formally.
But until then, use the fullness and beauty of language as it was meant to be used. And leave the tweets to the twits.