Jeanne Matthews is the author of the Dinah Pelerin international mysteries published by Poisoned Pen Press. Like her amateur sleuth, Jeanne was born with a serious wanderlust. Originally from Georgia, she enjoys traveling the world and learning about other cultures and customs, which she incorporates into her novels. She currently lives in Renton, Washington with her husband, who is a law professor, and her West Highland terrier, who is a law unto herself. Her Boyfriend’s Bones, the fourth book in the series, is in bookstores now. You can learn more about Jeanne’s books at www.jeannematthews.com.
To take a bit of poetic license with a risqué pop tune from 1975: Do you want to tweet with me? Getcha yadda yadda here. On Tuesday, June 4th, 2013, at approximately four o’clock in the afternoon, Pacific Daylight Time, I uttered my first tentative tweet. It was a cold plunge into unknown waters. Six weeks later, I feel like an alien who has washed up on a foreign shore. Je ne parle pas the lingo.
Jack Dorsey, who founded Twitter, defines a tweet as “a short burst of inconsequential information.” A thought must be distilled to just 140 characters. It’s a challenge. Like a bored Yossarian censoring the letters of enlisted men in Catch-22, it is “Death to all modifiers!” Acronyms are useful, as are initialisms. The distinction between those two, in case like me you didn’t know, is that an acronym is a pronounceable abbreviation (WASP or INTERPOL), whereas each letter of an initialism is pronounced (TGIF and IMHO). As for the consequences of any given tweet or series of tweets, it depends. If you live in Cairo or Istanbul, you might rally a mob and launch a revolution.
Approximately 350,000,000 tweets are posted every single day. According to analysts in San Antonio, forty percent are pointless babble, thirty-eight percent conversation, and the rest self-promotion, spam, or news. It boggles the mind to think that human beings actually spent the time to read a full day’s worth in order to sort them into categories. SMH, to use a current initialism that means “shaking my head.”
And what in the world is a hashtag? I mean, I know it’s the pound key, but when do you use it and for what purpose? Obviously it’s vital if you happen to have lost your panda. A couple of weeks ago, Rusty the red panda escaped from the National Zoo. They immediately put out a BOLO on Twitter. Be on the lookout for Rusty. That plea generated thousands of tweets with hashtags like #findrusty and #lostpanda. By monitoring the tweeted sightings, zookeepers were able to zero in on Rusty’s whereabouts and capture him. I suppose a hashtag is a file heading that leads a person to his or her particular interest. Hashtag Rusty, hashtag Bieber, hashtag Obama.
But different strokes for different folks. The French have banned hashtags. Well, not the concept, just the word. Tetchy about creeping Americanisms, they prefer the francophone mot-dièse, which translates as “sharp word.” Mot-dièse le football, mot-dièse Flaubert, mot-dièse le fromage. And instead of the right-leaning pound sign, they’ve adopted the left-leaning musical sharp sign. If there are political implications, a fundamental rule applies to all: Whichever symbol you use, don’t overuse it. According to a recent university study, too many hashtags will lose you followers, who are called peeps.
The ‘Net offers newbies like me lots of advice on how to attract peeps and gain twinfluence. For example, “Don’t tweet about death,” warns one study. Granted, death is a tender subject, but by definition death includes murder. And for a writer of murder mysteries who is trying to get her books discovered, not tweeting about murder would seem to defeat the purpose. But I am in this business to learn. Ne pas tweetez au sujet de morte. Got it. What should I tweet about?
Media gurus advise that you make your tweets pithy, perky, informative, and entertaining. If perky isn’t your natural attitude, insert smiley-faced emoticons. Especially jolly tweets are referred to as tweenkles. LOL. Just kidding. Although perhaps if I tweet #tweenkle a few times and it gets retweeted, it will start trending or at least grab a few HTs. In twitterspeak, HT means hat tip, which means “like” in case you speak Facebook. (BTW, the word Facebook has also been banned in France).
I am a stranger in a strange land and like the French, I want to cling to the grammar and conventions and familiarity of my native tongue. But in this brave new Twittersphere, I can’t even cling to my own name. The handle Jeanne Matthews had already been snapped up by another Jeanne Matthews. My handle is @JMmystery and at last count, I had amassed a following of fifteen. I am surging, if not trending.
Language evolves and new modes of communication require even the crustiest to adapt. Now I am but a lowly tweep, a novice cheeping and chirruping my little bursts of inconsequential whoop-de-doo to a great flock of advanced twittarians. Sometimes when I feel overwhelmed and confused, I picture a wee bird named Tiny Earl hopping from twig to twig, warbling his heart out into the cacophony, and LMAO.