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A primer on Twitter

‘RT’ and ‘@’ and ‘#’ – oh my! Before you tweet, learn the new slang that surrounds microblogging.

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As the microblogging website Twitter takes off, more than a few people are scratching their heads. After initial skepticism about the usefulness of a constant stream of 140-character messages, newcomers also need to decipher a new set of slang.

Just as e-mail and instant messages inspired “lol” and “btw,” Twitter users have invented their own terms – shorthand that makes the service more efficient and handy. These abbreviations develop rather organically. Clever conventions spread from user to user. Bad ones are ignored and die off.

This community effort is great for the faithful, but can be frustrating for Twitter novices. So, in lieu of an official manual, here’s a quick guide to Twitter slang.

User names
Just like with instant messengers, everyone on Twitter has a unique user name. For example, last week the Monitor set up a Twitter account specifically for the Horizons personal technology blog: csmhorizonsblog.

When you set up an account, Twitter gives you your own website that will automatically display all of your recent Twitter messages, or “tweets.” The address for this website is the same as your user name. In our case, it’s

A lot of tweets are just broadcasting the thoughts and activities of the author to anyone who will read them. But there are ways to directly respond to other users. If you want to comment on a Horizons post, include “@csmhorizonsblog” in your tweet. This targeted message will appear on your list of recent tweets and pop up for the other user, even if the person you’re talking about doesn’t follow your messages. A lot of people put @ at the beginning of a tweet, but it can go anywhere in the message.


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