AP Creates Style Laws for Twitter; Brace for Disobedience

Posted on June 12, 2009 by Comments Off

Micheal Foley, Content Editor

Much to my delight, the Associated Press finally legitimized Twitter by giving it an entry in the AP Stylebook – the coveted manual on style and usage for all serious mainstream journalists in the United States.

Twitter A community-based message-distribution system that allows users to post continual status updates of up to 140 characters detailing their activities for followers. The verb is to Twitter or to Tweet. A Twitter message is known as a Tweet.

Hooray! Twitter has entered the mainstream. The highly trusted media institution has recognized Twitter and established usage rules on the social-networking site’s most common terms.

AP StylebookWait. What did that say? To Twitter is a verb? A message is a Tweet?

That’s not what the vast majority of Twitter users think about the verb and noun status of these terms. In fact, Julia Roy famously commented on the verb/noun usage of these terms in the recent “I am a Geek” video (52 seconds into the video) where she types and says, “Oh and BTW tweet is a verb twitter is a noun.”

What’s worse is that AP seems to have created a new style out of thin air by capitalizing Tweet. Unfortunately, before forming their rules, the folks at AP didn’t seem to take into account how the top Twitter users actually use the terms.

Even the most authoritative source on the issue, Twitter itself, uses “tweet” as a verb and a noun (never capitalized) in all of the company’s official communications, such as its blog and its Twitter Support portal. Twitter is rarely used as a verb in these materials, and when it is, it is never capitalized. Only when referring to the service, site or company itself is Twitter capitalized.

The worst part of this usage debacle is that because AP style is so revered by the mainstream media, these incorrect terms will be parroted back to the public at large en masse. This phenomenon will pit new media and traditional media against each other once again (search “Web site vs. website” or “e-mail vs. email” for previous battles). Some of my geeky copy editor friends are beginning to wonder if AP really stands for “Ancient Prose.”

UPDATE (June 15, 2009): AP Stylebook Issues Half-Correction for Flawed Twitter Entry

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