Twitter Vocabulary

You’ll pick up most of the Twitter vocabulary as you go, but here’s some to get you started. There’s also some advanced vocabulary at the bottom. If you need help, just send me a message on Twitter!

I’m going to put my Twitter feed on this page again, along with the results for people using #tweetup, so that you can see some of the things I’m talking about here. :)

Basic Vocabulary

@: The @ mark goes in front of someone’s username on Twitter. It makes their name clickable. If you just type readable on or in a Twitter app, it’s not clickable, but if you type @readable, it becomes a link to my profile. Also, if you start a message with an @, it becomes a reply. See “Reply” below.

Follow (v.): When you “follow” someone on Twitter, you add them to your Twitter reading list. Their tweets will appear automatically. The opposite is “unfollow.” Ex. “Someone from New Zealand just followed me. Cool!”

Direct message/DM (v./n.): This is like a private message/PM on a bulletin board/forum system. It’s just between you and the person who gets it. No one else can see it. If your message is personal, use a DM. Don’t use it TOO much, because it may go to the person’s e-mail or phone, too. It can be annoying.

Follower (n.): A “follower” is like a MyMixi or Facebook friend. It’s someone who is following you. However, followers on Twitter are really casual. People follow and unfollow other people freely. You don’t need to ask permission to become someone’s follower, and you don’t need to apologize if you unfollow someone. Ex. “I have 200 followers.”

Reply (v./n.): Of course, this means “answer” just like in regular English, but it’s special on Twitter, too. If you start a message with a @username, then that person gets a notice about it in their app or it’s listed in their Replies on Also, not all of your followers can see this message automatically. Only people who are following both you and the other person will see it. That’s so people don’t see replies they don’t care about. :) Otherwise it’ll get too crazy. However, if they go to your page on, they’ll be able to see everything.

Spam (v., adj.): Advertisements that you did not ask for on Twitter (and e-mail, etc.) are called spam. People who send them are called spammers. Twitter and Twitter apps have functions so that you can block and report spam accounts. You should do this!

Timeline/stream (n.): The list of new tweets/messages that you get from the people you follow. It’s updated every few seconds if you follow a lot of people, and sometimes you can’t read them all. Just relax and don’t worry about it!

Tweet (v.): To post something to Twitter/to write a message on Twitter. Past tense: “tweeted.” Some people use “twitter” instead. Ex. “Wow, there’s a movie star on my plane! I’m going to tweet about it!”

Tweet (n.): A post on Twitter. Ex. “Your last tweet was really funny.”

Tweet-related puns: People have made up a lot of other words, like “tweeps” (peeps–>slang word for people/friends), “tweeple” (tweet+people), tweetup (a meet-up of Twitter users), “Tweet you later” (see you/Tweet with you later), etc.

Retweet or RT (v.): To post what someone else wrote again. It usually looks like RT @readable Check out this cool site for listening to English! You can do it by clicking a retweet button or by typing your own, which is useful if you want to add a comment before the RT. It’s like forwarding a link by e-mail. :) It DOES NOT mean “reply to.”

Advanced Twitter Abbreviations

One problem when you’re using Twitter is that native and fluent speakers use a lot of abbreviations in order to fit their thoughts into 140 characters. They also don’t use a full range of vocabulary or grammar, because 140 characters isn’t very much in English. (It’s a lot more in Chinese, Korean, or Japanese!) However, you can learn some useful abbreviations. Just be sure to not use these in business or school e-mail, letters, etc.

General patterns include

  • Letter/number-sound substitution, especially you->U, are->R, to/too->2, ks->x (usually “thanx”), etc. However, these usually aren’t used unless needed to save space. When I look at the main Twitter timeline, most things are spelled out.
  • Standard internet acronyms such as LOL, ROFL, OMG, FTW, j/k, etc. If you’re a Japanese-speaker, ALC/EOW has most of these.
  • Leaving out vowels. This is a common way to make things shorter when taking notes by hand in English, too. If the first or last letter is a vowel, it’s left in to make it easier to understand. Ex. “How’s yr day going?” “Bought abt 25 bks b/c there was a big sale”
  • ([I] bought about 25 books because there was a big sale.)

  • Leaving out personal pronouns, articles, conjunctions, etc. English uses more personal pronouns than languages such as Japanese. However, when we’re speaking casually, writing notes, updating Facebook, etc., we sometimes leave them out. Since Twitter is casual, friendly, online, AND we need to save space, they get left out a lot. Ex. “Lunchtime. Hungry. Went into kitchen. Didn’t see anything that looked good. 3 PM now. Still hungry. Stupid!” If your friend were speaking to you, she would have said “It was lunchtime and I was hungry, so I went into the kitchen. I didn’t see anything that looked good. It’s 3 PM now and I’m still hungry. I’m stupid!” or maybe “It was lunchtime and I was hungry, so I went into the kitchen. Didn’t see anything that looked good. It’s 3 PM now and I’m still hungry. Stupid!”

@ (prep.): With a space after it, it can be pronounced “at” and does not make a word into a clickable username. Ex. “@ the hospital! I broke my arm!”

<3 (v./symbol): This represents a heart and can be pronounced “love” or, if people are joking, “heart” or “less than three.” The meaning is still “love.” Ex. “I <3 the new album from Janelle Monae!" (I love the new album from Janelle Monae) or “My friend brought me cupcakes! <3 <3 <3" (this is purely internet-style).

*[verb phrase]*: Sometimes people type *hugs* or *sends you a cup of tea*, etc. The ** are to show the part inside is an action they are pretending to do. Some people use :: or :::: instead. This style is from chat rooms and IRC (a kind of pre-web chat system).

b/c (conj.): Because. Ex. “I’m logging off b/c I’m too sleepy to stay awake!” This abbreviation was common in pre-internet note-taking.

w/ (prep.): With. Ex. “Does anyone want to go w/me to the concert?”

w/o (prep.): Without. Ex. “It’s raining, but I left home w/o my umbrella.” (Both of these are pre-internet abbreviations that are used when taking notes, etc.)


Fail Whale: The Fail Whale refers to the image that Twitter uses when it is “over capacity” (overloaded) and it’s not working at the moment. “Fail” is a general English word that used to be only a noun, meaning to not succeed or not pass a test. However, based on a Japanese video game, the phrase “You fail!” became popular among English-speaking geeks. Eventually, it became even shorter: just “FAIL.” Now internet-users use it as a noun, such as “My day has been full of fail.” (Standard English would be “full of failure,” but the meaning is a little different.) There’s a whole page about the internet meaning of “fail” at Know Your Meme: Fail–but watch out! It plays a video with sound automatically.



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