Thursday, 5 November 2015

Taking things to ♥

In last night's talk at the Great Hall, Reading, David Crystal mentioned a change on Twitter (a tweak?) that has caused ructions. Not being a daily user of Twitter –  a twenizen or twabitué – I was aware of it but could not date it so precisely; a has become a ♥ ; at my latest visit, I just noticed and thought  Whyever did they do that?
The had a pleasing ambiguity. I have used it in the past for two things:
  1. As a marker for the last tweet  I had read (back in the days when I tried to at least cast an eye over all the tweets in my timeline). This mimics the First Unseen command of my one-time great love VAX Notes – which I may have mentioned before.
  2. As a way of keeping a record of tweets I wanted to remember (typically, pointers to web pages).
Unlicensed screengrab from
So, as I saw it,  the star was a marker for my use. I had not, then, come across the concept of a social media Like. In the world of social media there is a growing trend in favour of expressing approval of things, by awarding a Like (not a precise synonym for 'a like' in the analogue world – which is a habitual preference, as in likes and dislikes). Well, to call it  'a growing trend' is something of an understatement; it's more an outpouring of unEnglish bonhomie, which is gradually seeping into British English among users of social media. A digital Like is a notch in your digital gun (or, for Not The Nine O'clock News fans, a hedgehog symbol on the cab of your lorry). It's something to be proud of, and a public statement of your worth.

I realized the importance of this distinction when posters of tweets that I had marked with my no. 1 sort of 'like' (when the nearest sense to liking was in the implied You [i.e. I –  this is an internal monologue, remember] may LIKE to note that you've seen everything before this one) started thanking me.

A questioner after the talk asked whether Crystal expected the reinstatement of the  alongside the ♥.  Many users of Twitter had complained, Crystal had said – particularly (or at least most vocally) journalists, who didn't want to Like a picture of a beheading,  for example, when they just found it noteworthy. And this called to mind an example from a forum thousands of times smaller than Twitter.
When I first started using there was no way of symbolically expressing approval. This was in 2006, when many users still had slow dial-up lines. It was frustrating to spend <however long> (90 seconds?) downloading the latest reply to a note you were subscribed to, only to see the word Thanks (or even just tx or ;) ). So the powers that be introduced a Thanks button. 
But the forum, which used the vBulletin package was, in time, social-ized. You could have Groups and Friends and stuff – all those social impedimenta that we nerds are uncomfortable with. And as part of this social-ization (or in its wake [I'm not sure of the relative dates]) the Thanks button was re-labelled Like
This was not popular. People wanted to be able to give Thanks without the emotional incontinence of spraying Likes around like an over-excited puppy. Some time afterwards  – I don't know how soon after the change to Like, as a job intervened and I took a sabbatical from my moderating duties  – a new Thanks button was introduced alongside Like. This effete contempt for Likes has backfired. The Facebook page for WVGTbook has amassed a pitiful 60-odd Likes in about 2 years. He who lives by the ... umnm, this sentence has lost its way. 

So, if I were a betting man, I would put money on Twitter following suit with their symbols. Look out for a  alongside the  ♥.


PS My occasional award of a Tezzy (for the Time-Wasting Site of the Year) goes to this site. Unlike previous Tezzy laureates, it's not really the site itself that is the time-waster – but rather the activity that the site invites.

Update 2015. – Added this note:
Crystal-watchers will note that this prediction is at odds with the Professor's insistence on  avoiding predictions  about language-change (except the certainty that something will change). I  – no doubt unwisely  –  am less careful.

For example, in a recent reply in the UsingEnglish forum I wrote:

If I were to say 1 is wrong [HD – the question was about a dog 'perking up' or 'pricking up' its ears], I would expect a chorus of disapproval from people who thought I wasn't aware of how language changes. And one of those ways is the ultimate acceptance of something that initially was a mistake. Elsewhere I wrote

The word VESPERTILIONES was glossed in this document [an early list for travellers of equivalent phrases and mistakes] as CHAUVE-SOURIS. Elcock goes on:
.... In fact, bats are not noticeably bald..., and one is tempted to infer that CALVAS SORICES is a product of 'popular etymology', hiding a quite different word. In most French patois bats are called 'flying-mice' or 'bird-mice'; it may well be that CALVAS is in reality *KAWAS [the asterisk is a convention used to mark a supposed, not attested, form], the Germanic word which survives as the root of Fr, chouette 'owl'.
'Owl-mouse' - for chauve-souris - would make much more sense. But what caused the change from *KAWAS to CALVAS? ...
So I would say the use of 'perk up' given in 1 is not entirely acceptable yet, but it's understandable and therefore becoming more widely accepted. If you ask the same question in 50 years, the answer might be 'Yes, it's right', but somebody else would be answering!

Mammon When Vowels Get Together V5.2: Collection of Kindle word-lists grouping different pronunciations of vowel-pairs. Now complete (that is, it covers all vowel pairs – but there's still stuff to be done with it; an index, perhaps...?)

And here it is: Digraphs and Diphthongs . The (partial) index has an entry for each vowel pair that can represent each monophthong phoneme. For example AE, EA and EE are by far the most common pairs of vowels used to represent the /i:/ phoneme, but there are eight other possibilities. The index uses colour to give an idea of how common a spelling is, ranging from bright red to represent the most common to pale olive green to represent the least common.

I'm thinking about doing a native iBook version in due course, but for now Mac users can use Kindle's own (free) simulator.

Also available at Amazon: When Vowels Get Together: The paperback.

And if you have no objection to such promiscuity, Like this

Freebies (Teaching resources:  
Well over 49,800 views  and nearly 9,000 downloads to date**. They're very eclectic - mostly EFL and MFL, but one of the most popular is from KS4 History, dating from my PGCE, with nearly 2,700 views and nearly 1,100 downloads to date. So it's worth having a browse.)

** This figure includes the count of views for a single resource held in an account that I accidentally created many years ago.

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