COLUMN: "World’s a ‘Twitter’ over year’s top words"

This is my column for the Sunday, Jan. 3, 2010 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune. A version of this piece also aired as my weekly contribution to “Between You and Me” yesterday on 91.7 KAXE.

World’s a ‘Twitter’ over year’s top words
By Aaron J. Brown

If you don’t know what Twitter is, how it works or why it matters, chances are it’s been a hard year for you, if not a hard decade. I don’t particularly love the social networking site or use it as much as I could, but being aware of Twitter is necessary these days. Twitter is the “top word” of 2009 according to Global Language Monitor. And this is already lame. If you don’t like Twitter you stopped reading 18 words ago. If you do like Twitter, you checked out when I brought up the concept of “language.” That’s the sort of high talk that requires more than 140 characters.

Characters are letters, you see. Well, sort of. I am alone.

Anyone left reading now is probably the very sort of person who would be interested in the other top words of 2009 and the fascinating collection of expressions that make up the top words of our yet-unnamed previous decade. Thanks for sticking around. In fact, people like us are the only ones who know why 140-character phrases can so quickly shape the way humans think and use language. In honor of that, I completed the rest of this column a while back in 140-character “tweets” LIVE on the REAL Twitter (@minnesotabrown).

  • Hey Twitter followers; I am writing about Twitter for my annual top words column. One of the interesting things I’ve learned about Twitter i
  • Ha ha! That’s a super old Twitter joke from 2008. The next several tweets you see will be me actually writing a column using Twitter.
  • Top word of 2009 was Twitter. Top character? Probably “&” or maybe “2.”
  • Global Language Monitor details other top words besides Twitter. Among them ‘Obama.’ How does it feel 2 have name serve as political litmus?
  • Kind of shanked that last one. Hard 2 write punchline with so few words. Me learn to write more economically, less like Faulkner, that hack.
  • Other top 2009 words include H1N1 and “vampire.” Vampires are so hot right now and so are people who have H1N1 (What, too soon?)
  • Most top 2009 words are related to politics/economy: stimulus, deficit, healthcare, outrage, bailout, unemployed, foreclosure.
  • Also ‘transparency’ & ‘cartel.’ Cartels have transparency. If investor has problem just look into dark room & BAM BAM BAM … in the head.
  • Another top 2009 word: hadron. The “God Particle” was discovered and might detail the secrets of the Big Bang & the universe.
  • Seems fitting that related research on dark matter saw breakthrough here on the Iron Range at the bottom of an old underground mine.
  • Twitter woefully inadequate place to discuss dark matter and origins of Big Bang; then again so is average human mind. Hey, now. Problem.
  • No subject/verb agreement. My language not like usual. Almost, but not quite. Some element lacking. Must move on.
  • Global Language Monitor also explores top phrases of 2009. “King of Pop” and “Obama-mania” are 1-2. A mixed year for skinny famous guys.
  • “Climate Change” & “Swine Flu” also top list of 2009 phrases. To get on this list this year you pretty much have to sweat mortality & doom.
  • Also, top words/phrases of the decade. This decade is considered to be the most depressing of the last six in opinion polls. See why:
  • Global warming 9/11 Obama bailout evacuee/refugee derivative Google surge Chinglish tsunami H1N1 subprime Y2K misunderestimate Chad
  • Of top 16 words of the decade only 4 aren’t related to bad economy, war or disaster. 17th word did not fit in prior tweet: Twitter. Fitting!

I’ll leave it to you to decide if Twitter is helping or hurting the English language. One thing is certain and that is that it is changing the way people think and talk about news, pop culture and how we interact. In a medium that requires the fast transmission of Internet links, one can begin to understand how Twitter got to the top spot. Let’s see what pops up here in 2010.

Aaron J. Brown is a columnist for the Hibbing Daily Tribune. Contact him or read more at his blog His book “Overburden: Modern Life on the Iron Range” is out now.


  1. Also revealing: generating one’s own “Tweet Cloud” to see your own most-tweeted word of the year. A bit of a personal–but also cultural–snapshot, since it was apparent I talk (can you call twittering “talk??) too much about my children, snow, healthcare, poverty, Obama, and food. In that order. Can yo imagine the National Tweet Cloud? Foreclosure, unemployed, bankruptcy, public option, South Beach Diet, Mad Men…

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