Friday Reads: Twitter is Changing The English Language

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We know that social media sites like Twitter change how we communicate online, but is it changing the English language itself? A recent study suggests Twitter displays more deviations from standard English spelling than any other social media site.

According to a study conducted by Brandwatch, there were more words misspelled on Twitter than any other site (“Research Shows Twitter is Driving English Language Evolution”). This might be due to Twitter’s restrictive stucture: with only 140 characters, you have to adapt your words on Twitter. Here are the results in comparison to other sites:

Twitter users are the least literate of the internet users we looked at, with 0.56% of words on the network being either misspelled or otherwise unofficial, perhaps due to its stricter character limit.

Twitter                 0.56% or 1 in 179

Google+              0.42% or 1 in 238

Facebook            0.31% or 1 in 323

Forums                0.18% or 1 in 556

Americans tend to deviate slightly more than those based in the UK, with the Brits at 0.53% and the USA at the global average of 0.56%.

The study goes on to mention the most common misspelled words, and they’re no surprise:

The second most frequent deviation was the usage of acronyms, the widest used of which was LOL, followed by WTF, LMAO, YOLO, OMG and FFS.

In terms of the actual words that are misspelled, here are the favourites:

  • definitely

  • separate

  • embarrass

  • achieve

  • surprise

  • weird

  • government

  • argument

This study interests me because it ties spelling to literacy. I’m not sure I agree with that, but the idea of long-term deviations from the norm is interesting to me. That says there’s a shift in how we treat words — YOLO, for example, has meaning beyond Twitter.

The most commonly misspelled words listed are fairly common misspellings in any media. Some misspellings online, like “pwned”, are purposely misspelled and the misspelling itself has meaning.

This study shows us how many deviations there are between social media sites in the US and UK. Beyond that, I think we have to look deeper at how grammar and usage on these sites is changing English. Have these changes made their way into spoken English? There are examples of this. Will these deviations in spelling have long-term effects, and if so, is that such a bad thing?

What are some other odd spellings you’ve found on social media sites?

About Kevin Eagan

Kevin Eagan (@criticalmargins) is a freelance editor, writer, and teacher who lives in Central Florida. He edits book manuscripts and articles for local and national publications. In addition to writing about book technology and teaching college students how to write, Kevin works as an associate editor for punctum books. Previously, he was the books editor for Blogcritics. You can also follow him on Google+ or check out his professional website,

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  • shoreacres

    My first thought was, “Oh, fiddlesticks”. It seems pretty clear to me that even the best speller in the world has to bend to the restrictions of Twitter in order to meet that 140 character limitation. I’m an excellent speller, but even I will purpsly msspel wrds 4 chanc 2 snd out lk. 😉

    Of course, I send out tweets about once a week. Those who use the platform regularly might be more liable to transfer their twitter-spelling to other places. And of course texting brings some of same results.

    Another issue is punctuation, although I suspect that’s more related to smart phones and other mobile devices. When a comment shows up on one of my posts with no capitalization or punctuation, I always go through and edit it – without any comment to the person leaving the comment. Believe it or not, I’ve seen some people responding and mending their lazy ways!

    • Kevin Eagan

      Seems to me that this study is missing out some of the areas where linguistics scholars have gone: that language is fluid and can change over time. I always feel compelled to edit people’s comments too…it’s just a thing I do! Thanks for the comment!

  • desertdweller29

    I think these mediums are raising a future generation of bad spellers, personally. I see it with my kids and their friends. Just hope they have their spell-check working when it’s report time. I’ve also noticed a switch in the spelling of “gray” amongst Americans, after a certain book. Now everyone spells it “grey”, when traditionally it was just outside the US. Maybe color/colour is next. Just a curiosity…

    • Kevin Eagan

      There are certainly changes that are more detrimental than others. I see my students treat their writing with less care than before. I’d like to know more about the long-term changes things like Twitter bring to English…it could me shifts like the ones that happened with the printing press compelled writers to standardize spelling norms. Maybe this is an unraveling of some (not all) aspects of standardization?

  • margaretjeanlangstaff

    As Twain said, “It’s hard to have any respect for a man who can only spell a word one way.” Shakespeare’s plays come down to us with many alternative spellings, commonplace and not frowned upon at that time by the smarty-pants of his age. Language is a dynamic living thing, always in flux & wonderful Great post!

    • Kevin Eagan

      Yes, thanks! Language is dynamic. This study (or at least the interpretation of the study I linked to) seems to miss that point.

      • margaretjeanlangstaff

        What do they know (wink), anyway?

  • margaretjeanlangstaff

    Bad spelling? The least of our problems…

    • Kevin Eagan

      Absolutely. What’s most difficult for me to convey to my students is how to write prose that makes an argument, analyzes an idea, or conveys an extended thought. Many students like to skim the surface. I’d rather read a poorly spelled essay that says something thoughtful than a grammatically correct essay that says nothing new.

  • margaretjeanlangstaff

    Damn right! Just think, write–and think “right” (critically, logically). Keep at it Kevin, it’s a noble cause

  • Peter Licari

    I’m actually shocked that the rate of spelling illiteracy is so low. To see it at just half of a percentage point really surprised me. Perhaps I was more cynical than I should have been. Interesting read, Kevin.

  • Paul Rafferty

    Reblogged this on ENGLISH LANGUAGE REVIEW .

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