In my comedy Terms and Conditions Apply, an actor had to say the following lines as fast as he could:
“This Party is registered with House of Commons Political Services. Membership subject to status. Services may be provided in conjunction with another Party. The Party reserves the right to amend or withdraw policies without prior notice. Minimum spend: your entire household income. Offers subject to availability and end when the Party chooses. Typical APR ten thousand per cent. Exclusions apply. Selected other Parties may contact you with offers, which you should ignore. Participating politicians only. Go online for details. Terms and conditions apply.”
The idea was to satirise radio advertisements by bringing their language into normal conversation. The audience certainly got it!
Daft though such speed-talk is, at least the words are plain English. Less so I fear with other media. Okay, the abbreviations and acronyms used in texting or on Facebook – ur, lol, wd, cd and so on – though often irritating, have been normalised across generations, and are at least underpinned by recognisable English. (Btw, I use btw from time to time). And thirty years ago when seemingly complicated website and email addresses started appearing on letterheads and advertisements, they soon proved to be simply a point of contact, like a postal address – once you’d accessed the address you could communicate in ordinary English.
Not so Twitter. This instant-messaging medium has a bright blue language of its own and limits messages to 140 characters. Addresses are prefixed with @, and have to come out of this allocation. Some messages use so many @addresses that there are few of the 140 left for proper words. I just drew the following tweet off my Twitter feed:
LIVE SCORES: @WorcsWarriors lead 7-3 at @CornishPirates1; 0-0 between @khfcofficial & @BarnetFC and @bradfordparkave and @WorcesterCityFc
Not good communication and not easy reading. And clicking on any of the @addresses leads to an equally impenetrable barrage of @information and few meaningful words.
Then there’s the hashtag. This allows you to follow a topic of specific interest or current fashion. The subject is prefixed with # to draw attention. Shops now prefer a #BetterBuy banner in their window to a ‘50% Off’ poster, and TV channels invite you to click on #LostDog to find out more about, well, you guess …
Here’s another actual tweet from my account:
Brilliant poem: #Sum Poet @GregMLeadbetter http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b05q5y3q … #SomethingUnderstood #Poetry & #Linguistics @writingwestmids @BBCRadio4
The @s and the #s take up over half the spaces, and, though photos speak many words, the added BBC link eats up most of the rest. Hard going.
Okay, @PaulCostello8 is a dinosaur when it comes to social media #FairCop. So I’ve tried to come @ it another way. If communication in plain English is seriously hampered by a limit of 140 bright blue characters then I thought we could at least extend its useage to other @times and @places, say during a ch@ or when b@ting ideas about. We could call it Twitter Talk. #BetterValue #ImproveCommunications #NewLanguage #WorthTrying
I put my idea to the test in Hereford last week. I’d cooked up a bulk hash of chopped cold meat and vegetables, reheated in a spicy sauce, and wanted some tags to label the freezer bags with. So I caught the @DRM476 bus into town and visited @Wilkinsons for some hash tags #HashTags.
I couldn’t see any on the shelves #NoHashTags, and when I checked with the Customer Assistant she said,
‘Sorry luv, we’re out of hash tags.’
‘What, none at all, HashtagNoHashTags?’ I said.
‘Ever so sorry,’ she said. ‘They’re trending at the moment.’
‘What does “trending” mean?’ I asked.
‘Well,’ she said, ‘once we started hashtagging hash tags it caught people’s @tention and now everybody wants them.’
‘So @everyone thinks hash tags are fashionable?’ I said.
‘Yes,’ she replied. ‘A trend. Hash tags are trending HashtagHashTagsTrending.’
As you can imagine, I was delighted at her quick grasp of Twitter Talk!
‘When are you getting some more?’ I said. ‘I need to tag my hash.’
‘Ah, there’s a problem. Our stock buyer has made a hash of ordering hash tags HashtagHashUpHashTags. He didn’t tell @HashTagProducts who supply our hash tags that they were trending as a result of our HashtagHashTags, so they too are out of stock. It’ll be at least three weeks.’
‘Not very clever of the buyer,’ I suggested.
‘Yeah – his problem is he’s too fond of the old, you know …’ she said, making a smoking gesture with her hand.
Pitching herself wholeheartedly into Twitter Talk, the Customer Assistant said,
‘Yes, he hashes things up at the best of times, but this time the hash has clearly hashed up his hash tag handling HashtagHashHashingUpHashTagHandling, and @HashTagProducts aren’t happy about it.’
As we were ch@ting, I was becoming increasingly agitated by two children running up and down the aisles punching each other. Pre-empting me, the Customer Assistant said,
‘It’s okay. They’re only playing tag HashtagTag. Not harming anyone.’
‘But where are the parents?’ I said.
‘They’ll not be far away. Probably got ’em electronically tagged to keep a track on them HashtagTaggingTaggers!’ she said, laughing.
‘No doubt tagging taggers is trending too,’ I ventured.
‘Definitely! HashtagTaggingTaggers@HashTagShelves. Anyway, good luck with the hash tags. Try @Boots or @WHSmith in @HighStreet.’
I came away really excited about our conversation! In the same way as I’d successfully brought the speed-talk of radio-ad language into Terms and Conditions Apply @MarketTheatre @Ledbury @LastSummer #HilariousComedy #GreatAudience #MyFirstPlay, in one simple exchange I’d shown that moving away from on-screen Twitter can add value. #TwitterTalk #NoLimitOnCharacters #UseInEverydayConversation
Watch this space! I’ve got a sneaky feeling that before long Twitter Talk will be trending!
Copyright © Paul Costello April 2015
click. com – a play by Paul Costello. A comic romp through the joys and pitfalls of internet dating for ‘mature’ people. Showing at Bosbury Parish Hall Friday 24th/Saturday 25th July 2015.