“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:


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).

JOB: Lecturer in Latin Literature @ UKent

Lecturer in Latin Literature
Salary – £30,870 to £44,016
12 months fixed term from 1 September 2011
Closing date for applications 15 June 2011
Reference Number – HUM0185

The lectureship will be held in the Department of Classical and Archaeological Studies and you would join 13 full-time academic staff in a department that has been steadily expanding (http://www.kent.ac.uk/secl/classics/staff/index.html).

Applicants are expected to hold a Ph.D. in Classics which has already been successfully defended prior to the date of application, in the area of Latin Literature of antiquity (candidates specialising in Epigraphy may also be considered). Please refer to full details of this post (ref. no. HUM0185) at: http://www.kent.ac.uk/jobs/

Informal enquiries should be directed to Prof. Ray Laurence, Head of Classical and Archaeological Studies, email: r.laurence AT kent.ac.uk tel. 01227 827423

Application Process

To apply for this post you will be asked to complete a short form and upload your CV, a one page summary (covering letter) and any other supporting documents. You should also submit with your application a copy of an article or book chapter that you have published or prepared with a view to publication. Your application should provide clear evidence and examples demonstrating where you meet the criteria of the post. Applications must be received by the closing date of 15 June 2011. Late applications cannot be accepted.

JOB: Graduate Teaching Assistantship @ UKent

Graduate Teaching Assistantship in Ancient History at the University of Kent

The School of European Culture and Languages is offering aGraduate Teaching Assistantship tenable in the Department of Classical and Archaeological Studies for three years. Applicants in the following areas are eligible to apply: Hellenistic Greek History, Roman History, Roman History and Archaeology or another field of Ancient History within the period c. 300 BC to AD 300.

Students engaged as Graduate Teaching Assistants (GTAs) hold a unique position in the University of Kent; they are both registered students in receipt of a scholarship award and employees of the University.

Students engaged as GTAs will do no teaching in year one, but will be required to teach in years two and three. The Assistantships are awarded subject to satisfactory academic progress, including satisfactorily carrying out teaching and other duties.

The Graduate Teaching Assistantship is available to UK, EU and international students and consists of an annual maintenance grant equivalent to the Research Councils (£13,590 per annum in 2011/12) plus tuition fees at the Home/EU rate.

As part of the package, GTAs will be offered the following enhancements:

  • GTAs may have the opportunity to convene a course in their research area and/or have input into module design in the final year of their registration (as part of preparation for seeking an academic position)
  • GTAs will be given the opportunity to be involved in the organisation of a conference
  • GTAs will be expected and supported to give at least one paper at a national conference during their registration
  • GTAs will have the opportunity to join one or more research Centres in the Faculty (and/or across the University) and will have an opportunity to contribute actively to their chosen Centre

How to apply

To be eligible for this Graduate Teaching Assistantship, candidates must make a formal application for postgraduate study at the University of Kent. This can be done via the Postgraduate Admissions web form: (http://records.kent.ac.uk/external/admissions/pg_application.php).

Candidates must then send a letter or email, stating the reasons why they would like to be considered for a School of European Culture and Languages Graduate Teaching Assistantship, with a research proposal (of no more than one side of A4), and a short CV to: Jacqui Martlew, Acting Postgraduate Secretary
School of European Language and Cultures
Cornwallis Building
University of Kent
Canterbury, CT2 7NF


For further information please contact:
Dr Csaba Lada, Director of Graduate Studies
Jacqui Martlew , Postgraduate Secretary

The deadline for receipt of applications for this scholarship is: 31st July 2011 and interviews will take place in the first two weeks of August 2011

Shortlisted candidates will be invited to an interview and to give a short teaching presentation to the department on a topic of their choice suitable for undergraduate audiences.

Further details about the department of Classics and Anthropology may be found at http://www.kent.ac.uk/secl/classics/staff/index.html

This Day in Ancient History: kalendas junias

Ny Carlsberg Glyptothek, Copenhagen. Bronze bu...
Image via Wikipedia

kalendas junias