The Tweet as a Genre: The Challenge of 140 Characters

For the sake of considering the space allotted in a tweet, the title of this post is 10 words, for a grand total of 53 characters (a little more than 1/3 of what’s allowed in a single tweet).

If you’re like me, writing with a word count is a daunting task. My problem is that I often deem the word count to be too low, because most of the time, I want more room to write. This makes Twitter especially problematic.

I’m not just limited with words, I’m limited by total characters. I have to ask myself if the dramatic ellipse will actually make my tweet more funny.  How crucial are my commas? Is it worth it to say ‘u’ instead of ‘you’? Does ‘I ♥️ ‘ something express the same amount of love as saying ‘I love’ something? The art of the Tweet as a genre independent of any other, alludes me.

Truth be told, most of my tweets aren’t winners. I occasionally get a pity retweet from my sister or roommates. I think some of it stems from the fact that I tweet how I speak. In real, full words. Not in 140-character, abbreviated thought bubbles . It also might be because most of my tweets circulate around movies, professional sports, or like this example from the 2015 MLB postseason, some rad combination of the two:

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The movie here is Dumb & Dumber, the event is the Cubs inching closer to the World Series.

I appreciate words too much to cut them down to nothing, and so for someone who thinks at a million words a minute, being limited to a mere 140 characters is a challenge, but a welcome one. Is my humor coming across in this brief thought?  Does this construction make me sound like a jerk? Do I care? Can people read my sarcasm as intended?

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I like to think that the exaggerated use of the letter ‘Y’ helps to stress my level of sarcasm here.

Remember when we all first started texting, and people thought it was cool 2 txt in abreves? That trend drove me crazy. Since Twitter’s 140 character limit actually stems from SMS text messaging though, I guess the shorthand approach that people take while tweeting is well-founded. It also forces you to consider if  using shorthanded abbreviations for words takes away from your credibility as a writer or as a professional. I think the shorthand form many tweeters use definitely keeps Twitter a casual, user-friendly platform, I just don’t enjoy using it myself, and try to avoid it if at all possible. But maybe that’s just me.

As a vehicle, Twitter allows me to test my prowess and creativity as a writer. If you think of it as a game- how many different combinations of words and characters can I use to express one singular idea?- Twitter becomes a fun way to express your thoughts. It really makes you put a focus on how you say what you say.

Personally, I’ve always thought that the most effective way to communicate something is to make it as clear as possible. For example: spelling out exactly what I’m saying rather than leaving the reader to interpret my vague abbreviations. It leaves too big a gray space for my liking, because I believe that the kinds of things you tweet reveal a lot about the kind of person you are.

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Clearly I’m a hilarious and poor college student.

So, while I’m more likely to type lengthy, fully-worded tweets instead of succumbing to the SMS-inspired standard, I welcome the challenge that Twitter poses.  In the above tweet for example, I say ‘rich’ instead of ‘wealthy’, and ‘wanna’ instead of ‘ want to’- in both circumstances because they have lower character counts than their fancier alternatives. While that particular combination of words and made-up words may not make for the most sophisticated sounding tweet, they keep my tone honest and real sounding; which is another factor I like about the tweet as a genre. They may not always be pretty, but gosh darn-it do they sound real!

I think that so long as this trend doesn’t spill over into “real-life” writing (essays, novels, reports, what-have-you), it’s perfectly acceptable to  embrace the Twitter platform in all its quirky-limited-characterness. As evidenced by the tweet below, I shamelessly use emojis in my tweets, and totally abuse the power of the hashtag:

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Yes, another baseball related tweet.

Regardless of your tweeting style, I think the important thing is that Twitter gets you involved in a genre some of us may not be comfortable with, and challenging ourselves in that way can really improve us as writers. It gets us involved in global conversation, and helps to present our voices to a much larger audience than they might otherwise be exposed to.

So, my fellow language-aficionados, what are your thoughts about the Tweet as a genre? Is there a “right” way to tweet? Or a “right” subject to tweet about? Hashtag Full Words. Hashtag Lets Use Abreves. Hashtag Talk About Twitter. Hashtag Stop Tweeting About Baseball. #fullwords #letsuseabreves #talkabouttwitter #stoptweetingaboutbaseball