Social Media Slang

To quote Sir David Attenborough, “Twitter may sound trivial – it’s not. It’s hugely important.” He’s not wrong. Social media is quickly changing communication on a global scale, and it’s doing so in fascinating ways. Alongside making international communication easier though, it’s also having interesting effects on language.

Language evolution is not always degradation. Even on the internet. Lots of interesting things happen with language in social media sites and while purists may see this as a bad thing, I don’t. Actually, I find it fascinating that certain corners of the internet develop their own glossary of slang words. Even more so that some of these slang words stay in one place, while others migrate from site to site. That said, it can all be a bit baffling if you’re new to Twitter or just starting out with Instagram. So here’s a little selection of my favourite words, phrases and things from the places online where I lurk.

Oh and FYI, I’m leaving out most of the older internet slang from this list. I think we all know what LOL, OMG, WTF, and IMHO mean by now… don’t we?

(As always, if there are important things I’ve missed out, please do leave a message at the bottom of the page and let me know. These all predominantly come from the English speaking parts of Tumblr and Twitter, so it would be interesting to see if there are things from other sites or other languages which I’m currently unaware of.)

From Tumblr – where it’s perfectly acceptable, when you’re excited about something, to express it by just mashing the keyboard. It does kinda get the point across…

A blog carnival is a collection of blog posts with a common theme. Carnival of Space, for example, is a weekly roundup which I frequently contribute to here on Supernova Condensate. Ad hoc carnivals are often organised on Twitter, and can be a good way to discover some good new blogs to follow!

In twitter, sometimes you need to cut bits out of a tweet which you’re quoting so you can include all the information from the original and make a comment. CT stands for “cut tweet”. See retweet and MT.

Actually a technical term in Computer Science and often referred to as a “DDOS attack”, this stands for Distributed Denial Of Service. It’s performed by organising a large group of computers to repeatedly query a server (usually with something simple like a Ping request). Eventually, the server becomes so busy handling these false queries that it has trouble keeping up with legitimate users and becomes slow and unresponsive, or even stops responding altogether. Often used by internet activists for whatever reason, Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook and Livejournal among others have been victim to DDOS attacks. See also Fail Whale.

Short for “direct message”, if you want to send a private message to someone. A newer version of the term pm used on some forums, I’ve seen this on both Twitter and Tumblr – though on Tumblr, it’s usually referred to as an “ask”.

Fail Whale
When its servers are having trouble keeping up with the number of tweets being sent, Twitter usually shows a graphic of a group of birds trying to lift a whale with a message that its servers are over capacity.

The Fail Whale

This has become known as the fail whale, and is occasionally used in reference to other sites which are experiencing down time.

The same effect has been proven to be inevitable with virtually any site which experiences a sudden sharp rise in its user base (and has happened in the past most notably with Tumblr and Livejournal, and certain particularly popular science websites) – effectively amounting to an unintentional DDOS attack.

An old nonsense word from some forums. Usually used as a response to a conversation which has lost all rationality and logic! Not often seen, and frankly a bit of an inside joke among those who know it.

A Twitter hashtag used on Fridays for users to highlight others who they enjoy following – so that their followers can do the same. Often shortened to #FF. While not completely obligatory, it’s generally considered good etiquette to thank someone for mentioning you in a #FF tweet.

Someone who follows you. Duh. A lot of users like to welcome a sudden influx of new followers (this is more common on Tumblr) or thank someone for following them (both Tumblr and Twitter). As with the usual etiquette on many sites, this is good manners but not obligatory.

For the win! Anything which is presently just the coolest thing ever (frozen blueberries FTW!). Seriously. Not the inverse of WTF. Because that doesn’t even make sense.

“For Your Information”. Actually, this is pretty old. It escaped into pop culture a long time ago, but I’m including it here anyway. Because it’s my list. So nyah!


Stands for “Gratuitous Picture Of Yourself”. Was originally from Tumblr, when people would post a gratuitous picture which was actually of themselves. Has since evolved to cover essentially any picture (or sometimes even just a concept) which describes how they’re currently feeling. As the hashtag #gpoy, it seems to have escaped onto Twitter and Instagram now, too. Originally evolved from…

“Gratuitous Picture Of Yourself Wednesday” – when Tumblr folks (tumblists?) post a completely gratuitous, and often comical, picture of themselves on Wednesdays. Sort of a mildly narcissistic version of #FollowFriday.

Once upon a time, tags were just things on blogs to categorise posts. Then Twitter put a # in front of words to make tags possible in tweets. Hence, hashtags were born. And now they’re used everywhere! TumblrInstagram… Oh, but don’t use them on Facebook. That’s just silly. Often used to add an extra comment to a post. #MaybeSarcasm #OrComedyPerhaps #IDK #WhateverYouFeelLikeReally

Oh, and to those people on Tumblr who’re guilty of this… #stop making posts with entire comments in hashtags #seriously its fricking annoying to read #seriously #not cool #cut it out

Maybe twitter isn’t quite as cool as the Protoss and their psionic link, but it’ll do.

The cool thing about Twitter is the fact that at any moment lots of people are using it. This has two hivemind-esque effects. For one, during events, it’s easy to notice when lots of people are thinking the same thing if they tweet about it. Second, and more usefully, if enough people are paying attention to you, you can actually ask the #hivemind for advice on how to do something – and sometimes get genuinely useful answers. Which is IMHO one of the most useful things about twitter!

Short for “Heard Through”, it’s used on Twitter to credit whoever you heard a piece of news from. See also via.

It stands for “I Don’t Know”…

Twitter abbreviation for OverHeard. In case you hear something comical or interesting wherever you are – and you feel like letting the twitter world know. Which might not be a bad idea, depending what you overhear.

The legend goes that a couple of scientists on Twitter needed some motivation to sit down and get some serious writing done. And so, #madwriting was born! A bit like doing exercise training with a partner, anyone participating in these stints will sit down and write as much as they can in short 30 minute bursts. Bite sized and very much in keeping with the spirit of Twitter really, isn’t it? Expect to see a tweet along the lines of “And… write! #madwriting” kicking off one of these.

Short for “Modified Tweet”, and similar to CT. Used on Twitter, when you want to retweet some information but not exactly as in the original.

Popular on Livejournal, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. The idea is that writers take up the challenge of writing a novel, or at least the best part of one, in a month. Which sounds like a daunting task to me. Interestingly, the idea spawned a similar InAdWriMo, short for “International Academic Writing Month”. Though that seems to faded into obscurity for some reason…

Not Safe For Work. If you’re at work, don’t open this link. That is, unless your boss is ok with profanity, nudity, bad language or other such unpleasantness. Where Tumblr is concerned that warning should probably be on your Dashboard. Though you probably shouldn’t be on Tumblr at work anyway…

A little place on the Tumblr dashboard which shows a picture which is deemed popular through some kind of mystical process. Said picture invariably gets a hefty number of likes and reblogs. I don’t know how you can get your post featured in the radar, but I suspect it involves witchcraft or ritual sacrifice.

Did you like something someone else posted? Then reblog it and put a copy of it in your own blog too! Reblogging was a Tumblr invention and is basically how the entire place works, and how popular images are able to spread across the whole site like wildfire in a few hours! WordPress also has a reblog function, and I suspect other places now do too. I’d imagine it was inspired by retweet.

When you reply to someone on Twitter, by using their username. For instance, if you were to reply to one of my tweets, your message would start with @InvaderXan. Hitting the reply button directly though, will mean that whatever you’re saying will only be visible to people who follow both you and the person you’re talking to – prompting some users to drop an extra character in front of the @username so that a wider audience will be able to see the conversation.

Did you like what someone said? Retweet it. Now it’ll show up amongst your tweets too! It’s generally polite to thank someone for retweeting you, although this isn’t obligatory. Or you could…

Used if you want to ReTweet someone and add a comment. The usual way is to copy their entire tweet plus their username, put RT in front, and add your own comment in front of that. Like so…

Me too, this party sucks. RT @InvaderXan gpoy

Where something originally came from. If you know it, it’s polite to credit them for it. Especially on Tumblr which is renowned for unsourced images.

spoiler alert
Used when discussing plotlines to recent movies and video games, often simply as the hashtag #spoilers. A spoiler is something which will give away a major plot twist and probably ruin the story for you if you haven’t seen it yet. For example, pretty much everyone now knows the line “No Luke, I am your father”, but back in 1980 it would have ruined The Empire Strikes Back to know that before seeing it.

Some keyword which others can use to easily find your post. Called hashtags on Twitter, and quite important on Tumblr as a way of discovering interesting new people to follow.

trending topic
Twitter has a selection of trending topics in the left navigation bar. This can be changed to reflect what the people you follow are talking about, what the people in your country are talking about, or what people are talking about globally. Depressingly, the trending topics are usually banal drivel, though interesting things do sometimes pop up.

trigger warning
This is a warning that whatever you’re about to read will contain content which you may find upsetting. These things are typically to do with abuse or violence which, while they should be discussed, may trigger an adverse emotional response in anyone who’s unprepared. If you have any emotional scars, then brace yourself before choosing to read on.

twittersphere / twitterverse
The entire Twitter community! Or… those who are reading your tweets, at least.

On Twitter, an individual twitterer. Because twitterer is a silly word. Probably originally came from tweeple – as in a portmanteau word of tweet and people.

Twitter arranged meeting of a group of tweeps. These usually have a common theme, such as a group of bloggers with a particular focus, or attendees at an event.

Used to say who you heard something from. Not used so often anymore on Twitter due to HT becoming more popular.

What is air?
Tumblr slang for when someone’s laughing so hard they’re having trouble breathing properly! “I can’t breath” and “I’m dying” are also often seen. To quote the ever-sarcastic Tumblrbot:

Air is the part of Earth’s atmosphere which we breathe. Why are so many of you unfamiliar with such a basic concept?

2 Responses to Social Media Slang

  1. susan townsend says:

    I’m ~new to the Twittersphere…finally realized how much more there is than what the Kardashians did in the last 2 minutes…love the community/ies you can discover and participate in with just a little effort …

    You shared lots of great tips-thanks!…The best one, for me, was to learn the value of .@whomever vs. just using reply.

    PS Twitter is also curing me of my texting habit of using ellipsis for conversational pauses…my daughter is very pleased.

    Susan or NiskyMom2Four

    • invaderxan says:

      Well in that case, welcome! Glad you’re finding it useful too. Honestly, I use Twitter to find almost all of my news and current events these days – and if you’d asked me in 2008 before I joined up, I probably wouldn’t have thought twice about it.

      I’m happy you found my article helpful. And hey, if you need any random advice, feel free to ask – @InvaderXan :)

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