This article was published on September 15, 2012

The complete guide to Twitter’s language and acronyms

The complete guide to Twitter’s language and acronyms
Lauren Hockenson
Story by

Lauren Hockenson


Lauren is a reporter for The Next Web, based in San Francisco. She covers the key players that make the tech ecosystem what it is right now. Lauren is a reporter for The Next Web, based in San Francisco. She covers the key players that make the tech ecosystem what it is right now. She also has a folder full of dog GIFs and uses them liberally on Twitter at @lhockenson.

The beauty and challenge of Twitter is stuffing your most sophisticated thoughts and feelings into a measly 140 characters (or less). Unfortunately, our traditional methods of communication have proven to be a poor training ground for micro-messaging, and even the most savvy platform users have sighed in exasperation as those bright red negative character signs mock our basic intelligence. But, perhaps even worse, no good tweet is ever going to be 140 characters because it’s impossible to share, respond or reference a tweet that’s already at it’s max. If you want to make a big statement with a small message, you have to trim the fat.

Thankfully, a special subset of finite abbreviations and techniques have cropped up to help optimize your own Twitter lingo. These handy snippets of language — some no more than a single symbol — have been instrumental in fostering more sophisticated sharing and discourse simply because they are small. Plus, there’s an odd satisfaction one gets from distilling a five-word sentence into a five-character word. It’s rather intoxicating.

Unfortunately, these phrases are also often just gibberish to the uninformed eye, making it horribly confusing to parse through the information that quickly floats by in the news stream. This is why The Next Web has developed this quick and handy guide to Twitter’s most stalwart phrases. From the basic beginner to a tweet-savvy expert, this cheat sheet will help you navigate the perplexing and concentrated language that often appears in the stream, and make you seem like a regular pro in no time.

Beginner’s Lingo

@ — The @ symbol is easily the most important thing on Twitter, because without it, you will never be able to communicate. In tweets, @ is the necessary marker for the system to recognize when you’re talking to someone and therefore alert them of the mention. Plus, it can even pare down the character count from the get go: it’s much easier (and shorter) to refer to United Airlines as @united, for example. Also note: place a period before the beginning of the @ if you plan on beginning your message with a mention, or else Twitter will only send that tweet to people who follow both you and the person you are mentioning.

Ex: “I really loved that article on @thenextweb!”

# — Also known as the hashtag, the # symbol is another necessary component to producing a well done (and well shared) tweet. When coupled together with a word or phrase, it helps to produce a sentiment that could be regarded at the theme of the tweet itself without all the extra characters. Trending hashtags are topics, phrases or games that the Twitterverse is actively participating in, and they usually reflect a current event or news item.

Ex: “I really loved that article on @thenextweb! #winning”

RT — Rarely stylized as “R/T,” RT stands for “retweet,” an action on tweeting where someone broadcasts the message of another person they are following. Users have the option to retweet without comment or “quote” an existing tweet — the RT is usually replaced in the latter case with quotation marks on either side of the message.

Ex: “RT @lhockenson: I really loved that article on @thenextweb! #winning”

DM — This abbreviation refers to a direct message, which is the only private way for two users to communicate. Twitter social code indicates that conversations within a direct message to be handled in confidence, and both users must be following each other in order to initiate a direct message. But, please remember: simply writing DM in a tweet does not turn the message into a direct message, and that it will be released for your followers to see.

Ex: “[email protected], can you DM me, Re: @thenextweb article #winning?”

Experienced Vocabulary

This. — More a call to action than a comment, “This.” is usually the phrase utilized to indicate that the user considers following tweet or link a must-read or must-click. Usually reserved for important news, mindblowing memes or very funny jokes, it’s often paired with an RT from another source.

Ex: “This. RT @lhockenson: I really loved that article on @thenextweb! #winning”

TBH — An abbreviation for “to be honest,” TBH captures a sentiment that’s really difficult to capture in as little words: dissent. TBH is usually used to make a converse opinion on or a confession about a topic at hand, but it can also be used to make another point about a common topic.

Ex: “TBH, I dunno why @lhockenson thinks this @thenextweb article is #winning.”

MT — This abbreviation is short for “modified tweet,” which indicates that the retweet that was intended needed to be paraphrased to ensure the message,  now ripe with a fresh comment, still meets the 140-character limit. It often is used to indicate due diligence — a way for a user to reference another while also indicating a point may have been shortened. Think of MT as proper Twitter etiquette, and use when an RT has been altered more than one-third of its original characters.

Ex: “I’m really happy that this article expresses my similar feelings about this subject. Good work! MT @lhockenson: @thenextweb article #winning”

OH — Short for “overheard,” this abbreviation is commonly used to reference someone who is either anonymous or chooses to not be attributed for their quotes. Often, “OH” will also indicate where the quote took place, so followers can understand the context of how everything happened. When in doubt, using OH helps resolve the sticky situation of explaining why you desire making a quote socially relevant.

Ex: “OH at @thenextweb: “This article is #winning!” So #true.”

Super-Sophisticated Savvy Statements

ICYMI — One of the more recent and popular abbreviations is ICYMI, or “In case you missed it.” Often used by news outlets, pundits and other luminaries on Twitter, ICYMI is often peppered in to make a reference to a piece of media that has already published or is otherwise not as fresh as it once was. It’s also used to highlight an important news peg or fact that could have been buried in a news feed.

Ex: “ICYMI, this article on @thenextweb has a #winning article.”

+1 — A spill-over from neighboring social network Google+, +1 is the Twitter equivalent to a “Like” on Facebook. Usually a quick +1 is tagged on to a retweet as an affirmation that a statement or message is endorsed or promoted.

Ex: “+1. RT @lhockenson: I really loved that article on @thenextweb! #winning

H/T — Otherwise characterized as “HT,” this abbreviation specifically means “hat tip,” and is also a common form of approval on Twitter. While it can also be used in a similar manner to +1, H/T can also be used to refer to another user for finding an article or mentioning something on another social media website.

Ex: “Everyone should read this #winning article on @thenextweb. H/T @lhockenson”

TL;DR — Another vocabulary spill-over, TL;DR originated on Reddit and means “Too long; didn’t read” — offering users on the website a one-sentence summary of an unusually long post. On Twitter, TL;DR is often used to synthesize a much longer concept to a 140-character phrase, and is usually accompanied with a link to reference material.

Ex: “TL;DR: This article on @thenextweb is #winning”

| — Used for cleanliness rather than streamlining, the use of the |symbol is just to indicate a partition between statement or tweets. Users often utilize it to separate their own comments from the message of an article or another user, to reiterate the new opinion. It’s also a different way to express a retweet, usually accompanied by a reference using the word “via.”

Ex: “This article is so #winning . | via @thenextweb.”

SMH — Perhaps the most interesting abbreviation of them all, SMH is short for “shaking my head.” Because of its relatively ominous meaning, SMH can be used in place of a variety of much more verbose sentiments: confusion, disappointment, even amusement. Also, SMH can be used as a stand-alone phrase to comment on a retweet or to reference a link, leading to a very streamlined message packed with apt emotion.

Ex: “Why is everyone still using #winning? It’s not relevant anymore. SMH.”

Image Credit: Andrew Money

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