On TIME Newsfeed, Katy Steinmetz wonders why Twitter has inspired "an army of fusion words," or portmanteaus — from "Twiplomacy" (Twitter diplomacy) to "Twitterati" (Twitter literati). Our own Ben Zimmer has some ideas.
Every day, new combinations march into being. Twitteracy is the ability to understand the medium. Twittebrities are the A-listers who use it. Twitterati, Twittersphere, tweeple, tweetup, twisticuffs, twelete, twirting. There’s no question that there are a twitload. But why, exactly, is Twitter such a fusion muse? And will any of them last?
Linguist Ben Zimmer theorizes that these words keep cropping up because the “tw-” intro is so distinctive. After the name of the platform inspired the name of its central unit—the tweet—early adopters had a formula they could use and reuse, he says. The name Twitter is also “playful and distinctive,” he says, which perhaps encourages wordplay. [...]
“Snappy portmanteaus certainly work well on Twitter, where space is at a premium and linguistic memes can spread quickly via hashtagging,” Zimmer says.
However, spreading quickly does not often give way to lasting long. Cronuts are already ceding ground to crookies in news stories. Obamaquester is a distant memory. The Internet gave new slang the potential to reach more people much faster—and when more people are exposed to new words, there’s a good chance they’ll get tired of them faster, too. “Very often these new portmanteaus are just the meme-tastic flavor of the week,” Zimmer says, “and their fall to the linguistic scrapheap is just as rapid as their ascent.”
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