Why you should care

Because nobody wants to see the word “amazeballs” in your tweets.

Fretting about losing followers on Twitter? Ever considered it might not be so much what you’re saying as the way you say it? A London PR man who prides himself on good social media etiquette claims to have the answer: a new Web-based tool that promises to cut the clichés from your posts, free of charge.

PreTweet, launched last week, helps wannabe-cool communicators get their message across in 140 characters or less — without annoying words or phrases — before their message is sent. Irritating words come back with a “twaddle” tag, and a warning that the tweet has a potential cringe factor that warrants amending.

These expressions are not used in normal conversation, so why are they considered appropriate for tweeting?

— Hamish Thompson, creator of PreTweet

There’s no doubt there are some annoying habits on Twitter — like spelling the definite article “teh” — but how did the creator, Hamish Thompson of Houston PR, come up with a list of the verboten in the first place? The company surveyed 500 regular Facebook and Twitter users about the phrases they found most annoying, and then created a starting database that could be filtered.

The cringe list includes not only deliberate misspellings and overused words like “awesome,” but also language that appears to have been born on Twitter. Take “epic fail” or “amazeballs,” which make regular groan-worthy appearances when searched on a platform like TweetDeck. “These expressions are not used in normal conversation, so why are they considered appropriate for tweeting?” asks Thompson, who believes these buzzwords entered the lexicon because the language is “addictive and seductive” to the user tribe, and therefore self-perpetuating.

New non-words like “kitteh” and “interweb” were also identified as common offenders in the survey sample, along with overkill punctuation some tweeters use for emphasis, such as describing their loved one with the all too common “Best. Boyfriend. Ever.” New words will be added to the database as new users submit their own bête noires — if they bother, that is.

“This tool will need a critical mass of users to give it any value,” warns Dr. Markos Zachariadis, assistant professor of information systems at Warwick Business School, who is skeptical about the uptake: “I would never use it myself, because I know the demographics of my friends and followers.

“However, with enough users to establish what is considered truly annoying by millions, a filter could be useful to organizations keen to engage customers,” Zachariadis says.

It could also be a learning tool for social media newbies learning the nuances of online communication. Language is a factor, too. After all, he adds, “LOL was born to convey a joke in text messages before they became free to send and space ceased to become a limitation.”

So as useful as PreTweet sounds, will anyone actually use it? Personally, Zachariadis finds “amazeballs” an annoying word — but he wonders whether those who use it would bother to check its acceptability. “People who use jargon tend to embrace it,” he explains, and expects that these folks are likely to remain “super excited” about vocabulary they consider “seems legit” for the “twittersphere.”

Professor Robert Hackett from the School of Communication at Simon Fraser University says his first reaction to a tool that users apply to their own messages to make Twitter less annoying is: “Why not?” But he also reminds us that the “expression and promotion of hatred, misogyny, and hyper-commercialism through so-called ‘social media’” is a much bigger concern.

But alas, there isn’t an app to rid us of that.

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