The Verb “To Twit”

By Maeve Maddox

Sometimes being ignorant is not such a bad thing.

As widely as I read in all kinds of sources, I was ignorant of what has happened to the verb twit. I knew that it was old-fashioned of me to use it as a synonym for tease, but I like the word. I’d no inkling of the other meanings that are out there. For example, some speakers assign sexual connotations to the word. (I’m not even going there in this post.)

The verb twit comes from Old English atwite, “to blame, to reproach.” It used to be spelled twite and was pronounced with a long i. It has lost the final e and is now pronounced with a short i.

The unabridged online OED I use gives this as the first definition:

twit transitive verb: To blame, find fault with, censure, reproach, upbraid (a person), especially in a light or annoying way; to cast an imputation upon; to taunt.

The OED app on my phone gives this definition:

twit (twits, twitting, twitted) verb: tease or taunt (someone), especially in a good-humoured way.

The first definition given in Merriam-Webster is “to subject to ridicule or reproach.”

In my Web searches, I did find examples of twit used in the sense of ridicule, but I must admit that most of them date from the nineteenth or early twentieth centuries. The modern examples I found tend to be from countries other than the United States.

Enter Twitter.

Created in 2006, the social media site Twitter has altered the use of twit in all its forms in the minds of millions.

As far as I knew, the verb for publishing a message via Twitter is “to tweet,” and such a message is called “a tweet.” However, in my search for examples of twit used in the sense of tease or taunt, I discovered numerous examples of twit being used like tweet in the context of posting a message on Twitter:

Elon Musk twitted that the smaller and lower costing sedan will start production in about 2 years, but not before debuting in March 2016.

However, Saraki on his twitter handle later twitted, “I can now confirm that I just received the list of ministerial nominees.

A third-party developer, Steve Stroughton-Smith, twitted that Bugdom 2 is one of the first 3DTV-enabled titles to enter the new tvOS AppStore.

Send a Twit and receive a coupon.

Prime Minister David Cameron posted a twit, in which he condemned the attack.

I have never met Stella Paul in person. But I have read her write-ups and her twits and they have kindled a light in me to do something for my own country. 

This use of twit for tweet is twitted by many Twitter users, but there’s already a new social media platform that has adopted the name Stocktwits.

Another meaning of twit as a noun is “a fool; a stupid or ineffectual person.” Writers who know this definition as well as the “taunt” meaning play on the words to produce punning humor:

A few days ago, former Gov. Sarah Palin (R-Alaska) took to Twitter, and twitted Barack Obama once again.

I resigned because Twitter is making such twits of politicians.

Poisoning political dialogue: the twits who tweet in whispers

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