“Twitter” in Latin?

This past weekend, I was pondering whether anyone had bothered yet to render the word “Twitter” into Latin, and threw the question out — naturally — to my Twitter followers.  What I didn’t want was simply a transcription in Latin of something that sounded like ‘twitter’ … I was looking for a word which some Classical Roman might have used had social media of our sort existed back in the day. The word had to be Classically-attested, and ideally wasn’t a hapax or something culled from a disputed line in an apparatus.

I, and several others, immediately thought of Catullus’s sparrow hopping about in Lesbia’s lap (Carmina III, incipit, via the Latin Library):

LVGETE, o Veneres Cupidinesque,
et quantum est hominum uenustiorum:
passer mortuus est meae puellae,
passer, deliciae meae puellae,
quem plus illa oculis suis amabat.
nam mellitus erat suamque norat
ipsam tam bene quam puella matrem,
nec sese a gremio illius mouebat,
sed circumsiliens modo huc modo illuc
ad solam dominam usque pipiabat.

[...]

No matter what one thinks the passer actually refers to (e.g. see this short analysis of Carmina II), pipiare (‘chirping’ or ‘peeping’ in the avian sense) does seem to be related to the whole concept of Twitter and ‘tweeting’, obviously. Accordingly, I chanced upon a nice page which conjugated pipiare in all its forms which offered a sort of ‘menu of potential terminology’ and initially was in a gerundive state of mind, and threw out the suggestion of Pipianda (things chirped) for Twitter, and pipiandum (a thing chirped) for a tweet. Other forms were suggested, most notably pipulum for Tweet, by Dave Oosterhuis (@VerbaLatina). Bill Thayer (@LacusCurtius) suggested ‘pipiatum‘ to save a character (we do tweet in a 140 character world, of course), which was also nice because it brought back the ‘t’ sound.

That ‘t’ sound seems to have latched onto my brain, and after some confusion (on my part) with the suggestion of tuitear (from @latinimberbe, who was giving me the Spanish word, but I didn’t catch on), I was waiting to see if any ‘t’ words came to be suggested. Coincidentally, Daniel Russell (@NotusNasoNovit) brought up that he used ‘titiatum‘ to refer to Twitter because it did preserve the ‘t’. I had seen that word, but I could not discern whether it was Classical or Medieval. According to Daniel, in the OLD the word occurs in Suetonius — but not in the Lives of the Caesars, but in some obscure work called the Prata (fr. 161) which seems to be a catalog of animal noises. In the August Reifferscheid, Friedrich Wilhelm Ritschl edition which is online, we see the simple phrase:

passer titiare

That seemed to fit the bill nicely. Late consideration was also given to Aurelien Berra, who mentioned using fritinnio, fringultio, and frigutio in a Twitter-related discussion last summer. A check of this word yielded (with help) the following from the Latin Dictionary at Perseus:

frĭgūtĭo (frĭguttio, fringūtio, frĭgultio, fringultio , fringulo ), īre, v. n. and
I. a. [a lengthened form of 2. frigo], to twitter, chirp.
I. Lit., of birds: “merulae in remotis tesquis frigutiunt,” App. Flor. p. 358, 22: fringulit et graculus, Poët. ap. Anthol. Lat, 5, 43, 124.—
II. Transf., of a person who speaks indistinctly, to stammer, stutter.
A. Neutr. (ante- and post-class.): “murmurare potius et friguttire quam clangere,” Front. de Eloqu. p. 229 ed. Mai.; cf.: “saepe in rebus nequaquam difficilibus fringultiat vel omnino obmutescat,” App. Mag. p. 296, 21: haec anus admodum frigultit, Enn. ap. Fulg. 562, 24: “quid friguttis?” Plaut. Cas. 2, 3, 49 (also ap. Varr. L. L. 7, § 104).—
B. Act., to stammer forth: “vix singulas syllabas fringutiens,” App. Mag. p. 336, 18.

While the word is listed as ‘twitter’ or ‘chirp’, from the birds described as using it — blackbirds and jackdaws — and the transferral of it to refer to stammering and stuttering, it doesn’t quite have the same elegance as pipiatum or titiatum. In the end, for me anyway, it was a bit of a coin toss and it boiled down to how good it looked as a logo:

versus

Aesthetically, the latter looks almost like the original (so is a translation of an image as well) and also has the nice feature of not having descenders, which seems to be something folks avoid in logos for some reason. And so I humbly suggest (and/or confirm or agree): Twitter in Latin should be Titiatio and a tweet Titiatum

n.b. In addition to the folks mentioned in the text above, thanks also accrue to Terrence Lockyer (@TLockyer). @Trypalopex, Anne Holmes (@Polyxena), Meghanne Philips (@painalabanane), and Stephanie Brookes (@manx_maid) who also played a role in confirming, moving, and augmenting the discussion which resulted in this blog post (hope I didn’t leave anyone out!). Folks interested in the Suetonius animal sounds thing can check out an article mentioned in this context by Dave Oosterhuis: Chauncey E. Finch, “Suetonius’ Catalogue of Animal Sounds in Codex Vat. Lat. 6018″, The American Journal of Philology Vol. 90, No. 4 (Oct., 1969), pp. 459-463 (available at JSTOR for those with access).

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18 thoughts on ““Twitter” in Latin?

  1. Terrence Lockyer says:

    One minor correction: it’s not actually clear what the Prata (“Meadows”) was, or which of Suetonius’ known lost writings it included (OCD3 suggests it might also have been known simply as De variis rebus, “On Various Subjects”), but at any rate it seems to have been a miscellany of which the list of animal sounds is just one part.

    In addition to Google Books, Reifferscheid’s 1860 C. Suetoni Tranquilli praeter Caesarum libros reliquiae is available in a number of formats via the Internet Archive. Fragment 161 begins on page 247, and continues (supplemented by lists of animal sounds from other sources) to page 254, which is where “titiare” appears.

  2. Personally, I think titiatio is the best option in so much as it onomatopoetically captures the sound nearest to our own representation in English and to that which the founders of Twitter saw best to use. (although, by the way, I can’t find “titiatio” in any of my dictionaries. There IS titio, titiare, however)

    Though one other thing; yes we find verbs listed in the first person singular in dictionaries, but native speakers of Latin and those who only spoke/wrote in it as an academic necessity until the 19th century did not use the 1st person singular for the concept of the word itself. The concept itself would have been “titiare,” e.g. “Titiare est humanum.” So, presumably, Twitter would be “Titiare” rather than “Titio.”

    And just to correct one other thing, the gerunds pipianda and pipiandum do not mean ‘things tweeted’ and ‘a thing tweeted’ respectively. They mean ‘things to be/worthy of being/that must be tweeted’ and ‘thing to be/etc. tweeted.’ They can also just be the notion of the verb as well, much like the infinitive as mentioned above. Romans themselves considered the use of a verb as a noun as declining thus:

    Nom. titiare
    Gen. titiandi
    Acc. titiare
    Dat. titiando
    Abl. titiando

    Anyway, I like your curiosity and interest in the topic the most. :)

    • I just realized why you used titiatio now. You were using the -atio suffix to create an abstract. Sorry, I was very much confused as to why it seemed like that. So ‘titatio, -onis’? ‘s cool. :)

    • Dominic McPherson says:

      You’re talking about gerundives (verbal adjectives, passive, sometimes used with esse to connote obligation….) not gerunds (verbal nouns, active, neuter, singular in form) pipianda is, perforce, a gerundive, ‘things to be tweeted.’ pipiandum could be either.

  3. Nice inquiry and nice logo proposals! In the tweets you mention,
    I was commenting on the translation suggested by @latininthefield, “frigutio”, and wanted to draw attention to the derivative meaning of “twitter”. Quote.
    • Latin “frigutio” translates as “twitter”, but the derived meaning is “stammer”! Still appropriate?
    • “Frigutio” is a nice & expressive word for “twitter”, ironically switching from light talk to speech pathology!
    • Or is “fritinnio” even nicer than “frigutio”, or “fringultio”? Are you planning to translate tweets into Latin?
    Unquote. Be it as it may, nunc est pipiandum uel titiandum!
    Aurélien (@aurelberra)

  4. Titiatio is (to my mind) not an elegant solution. Why not the imperative titia, as in audi, the car manufacturer? Still, “twitter” has two syllables, so the verb trissare would be better, in the imperative as trissa, or as trisso (“I twitter”). But my real question is this: Why so conservative? These verbs are all onomatopoetic. So why not create your own verb? Because it’s not in the “official” dictionaries? Come on! I propose the imperative tuitta, based on tuittare, tuitto, tuittas, tuittavi, tuittatum, with a contracted nominal participle tuittum, with derivatives like tuittator etc. :) It’s not even a complete neologism, because there’s a similar word in Greek τιττύω, as known from the double-onomatopoetic compound τιττῠβίζω (“to twitter”). Apply a simple metathesis to tittúô, latinize, and you have tuitto as an alternative to titio. Voilà. :)

    • Addition: the best title for the twitter feed box would probably be “I have twittered” (tuittavi), or rather the pluralis modestiae “we have twittered” (tuittavimus). You lose the two syllables, though, but it sounds right.

  5. Jon Lockerby says:

    During development, the guys who invented Twitter used the term “twitch” to denote the messages. Later on, they realized that “twitch” was, from a marketing standpoint, not very good – it connotes something annoying and bothersome, and wouldn’t do for a brand name. So one of them went home one night and got out a dictionary, and went through the words that started with “tw” until he found one that looked pretty good: Twitter. A short, inconsequential burst of noise. And that’s what they went with – and to be fair, it’s a good name.

    Later on, they did the same thing with another project – a program that lets small merchants use their cell phones to charge people’s credit cards. The name they came up with was Squirrel. Then they found out that there was already a point-of-sale technology company called Squirrel. So one of them went through a dictionary looking for good “sq-” words. They ended up with Square. In my opinion, less good. But still maybe okay.

    So if you are looking for what the Latin counterpart of Twitter would be, you’d start with the Latin word for twitch: tremulo. Then, you’d go through a Latin dictionary looking for words that start with “tr” for one that can stand in for your original word’s meaning, and have better marketing connotations. I come up with two contenders: tripudio (to leap, jump or dance), and transcurro (to treat briefly). Both fit the bill. Now, I got those off a very small, basic Latin dictionary I found online, so maybe there are better contenders out there. Point is, given the way the brand name Twitter came into being, this is how to go about finding a Latin counterpart, not barking up the wrong tree with Latin words for bird vocalizations. The guys who came up with the brand name didn’t particularly care about that aspect, so why should anyone else?

  6. JPB says:

    Just stumbled across this post. I’m afraid any form of pipiare is probably out: Mynors’ OCT is inaccurate on this poem, and Trappes-Lomax (Catullus, a Textual Reappraisal, The Classical Press of Wales 2007) has pretty much eradicated any chance of it being ‘pipiabat’ in line two of Catullus III, and it probably arrived through some corruption in the manuscript. Some personal research has thrown up the occasions where ‘pipiare’ is used, Lewish and Short have them both as coming from Tertullianus, where they are used to refer to children crying (infantes pipiantes), or rain being made from the tears of a Goddess: “Etiam caelestes impres pipavit Achamoth”, Adv. Valent. 15. Either way, crying your eyes out is a bit far from the ornithological elements of twitter that we’re after here, or following Jon above, it’s definitely not great from a marketing standpoint! I think Mr Meadows is spot on, and titiatio for Twitter sounds excellent!

  7. Dominic McPherson says:

    hmmmmm…. pipiatio is better, I think. One can’t help thinking that, in the manner of these things, people will soon be sending each other ‘tits.’

  8. Robertus says:

    In the end, I think that Reginald Foster’s rendition is the best: breviloquium, i for tweet; breviloquens for tweeting (or a person tweeting); breviloquus, -a, -um for the adjective form; breviloquor, -loqui, -locutus for the verb. This is less artificial as Cicero used this word and as well best describes what a “tweet” really is: short speech (or talk). On a note which might be less relevant to most of the world, titiatio is too close to the Filipino word for penis which the usually modest Filipino (who also do Latin) would rather avoid saying.

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