Final Word

The twit twittered on twitter with a string of tweets


What started as an imitative description of someone regarded as a irritating bird-brained fool at least six centuries ago, became a popular, and respected word in the 21st century.

It is generally accepted that the nowadays very popular electronic platform for communication, the micro-blog Twitter, has twit as the root word for its name, as well as for the concepts and activities that go with it, like tweet, tweeting, twitter/ers or twitterati, twittering, twitterrific, and many more.

According to Etymonline, back in time (1520), twit was used to "to blame, reproach, taunt, upbraid." It started off as twite as a shortening of Middle English’s atwite, from Old English ætwitan "to blame, reproach," from æt ("at") plus witan "to blame, "which in turn comes from Proto-Germanic witanan "to look after, guard, ascribe to, and reproach."

We also find similar words in Old Saxon witi, Old Norse viti "punishment, torture;" Old High German wizzi "punishment," wizan "to punish;" Dutch verwijten, Old High German firwizan, German verweisen "to reproach, reprove," Gothic fraweitan "to avenge." Our Afrikaans readers will also recognise the roots of words like verwyt and vervies in this list.

Twit in the 1930s also made its appearance in British slang, became popular during the 1950s-60s and migrated to the United States via British television sitcoms, according to some sources.

Tweet arrive, setting word speed record

The related word tweet, which according to can be defined as the week chirping sound produced by a small young bird, was first recorded in 1845 and described as “imitative of the sound made by a small bird.”

It remained at that for most of the history of the word, but then the software development company Iconfactory in 2006 launched their micro blogging platform called Twitter, and called the 140-character maximum messages that could be posted, twittering and their clients twitterres.   

 One of the developers at the company, Blaine Cook, in 2007 suggested that the messages should be renamed tweets, after the young birds’ sounds and the process of communication called tweeting. His suggestion was accepted and implemented in June 2008 and tweet and tweeting started to take on a whole new meaning.   

And, if you don’t believe that the internet is speeding-up life, the 140-character long tweet will persuade you otherwise. Five years later, in June 2013, the Oxford English Dictionary added it, under its new meaning, to its list recognised words – exactly half of the standard minimum of ten years in circulation before words are considered for inclusion.   

Final word

Maybe, the premier of the Western Cape, Helen Zille, after her recent experience with Twitter would argue that one should be aware of the danger that tweets cannot always be compared with the weak chirping sounds made by young birds.

It can cause one heck of a noise, waking-up a whole army of twits accusing you of improper attitudes.

And, the birds surely do not have members of the Democratic Alliance, or the CAN for that matter, amongst them. It they had, they would have gone to court by now over expressions like “bird-brained,” and ‘accused’ of making irritating noises.

by Piet Coetzer

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Final Word

Final Word

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