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:
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:
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).