How to speak Twitter's language

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How to speak Twitter’s language

Twitter by JefferyTurner, on FlickrYou've probably heard of #hashtags and “retweeting” but do you know what MT and h/t stand for? Or why people sometimes put a period (.@username) at the beginning of a reply tweet?

Social media–especially Twitter–can feel like a foreign language. 140 characters (the limit for an update on Twitter) isn't a lot, so abbreviations and short forms abound, compounding the problem.

But I don't want you to let this “language” stop you from getting on Twitter and creating relationships with your community! (Seriously, you can’t do it wrong if you remember this one golden rule.)

Stop feeling like an outsider.

When I was 16, I convinced my parents to let me do an international exchange to France. I loved everything about the French language and the thought of actually living in France was thrilling. (Especially as I'd never been to Europe before that.)

For three months I lived with an incredible host family in a small village outside of Avignon in the south of France. It was everything I could have hoped for, but it was also one of the hardest experiences of my life.

For the first time in my life I realized how much of my identity and personality were tied to my ability to communicate. (My chatterbox nature goes way back ; ). For the first time in my life I couldn't understand everything going on around me and had no idea how to reply when someone spoke to me. I felt like I had no real way to express myself and my personality was locked up in English. Those first few weeks were the loneliest I've ever experienced.

Feeling like you're an outsider looking in–whether it's because you feel you'll never speak the language or you'll never understand the technology–is isolating, and can easily lead to “ah, why even bother” defeatism. But I survived that first month by not giving up, experimenting and regularly forcing myself outside my comfort zone. (And I now I not only speak French but I live in France!) Learning a new language (real or digital!) takes courage but it makes us richer as people. (Tweet that!)

Speaking Twitter, 101.

No more “what the heck does that mean?” moments! Here are the essential twitter-isms, explained. This is not an exhaustive list! (I'd love to hear what I missed in the comments below this post.)

Follower = Someone who is following your tweets. This means when you tweet, it shows up in their main Twitter feed. Unlike on Facebook, people don’t need your permission to follow you, and conversely, you can follow whoever you like. (Ok, you can “protect” or lock down your tweets, but that misses the whole point of Twitter in my honest opinion.)

@username = Twitter handle. Your @username is your Twitter name or handle. (The @ is pronounced “at”.) I would say, “I’m @jackiejohnstone on Twitter” or “my Twitter handle is @jackiejohnstone”.

@reply = a message directed to that specific user. This is public and will show up in your ‘Mentions’ section (on or within your social media management tool) but if the tweet begins with an @reply it will not show up in your followers ‘Home Feed’ unless they are also following the person you are replying to.

.@reply = a way to make an @reply visible to all of your followers. By adding the . before the @username in your tweet (or anything, for example, “Yes, @username…) the tweet will show up to all your followers.

DM = Direct Message. A direct message is a private message sent to another Twitter users private message inbox. You can only send direct messages to people who are following you. (And conversely, can only receive direct messages from people you are following.)

RT = ReTweet. To retweet is to re-broadcast someone else’s message to your audience. You can retweet with or without comment–this is handled differently depending on what social media management tool you use. (On, pressing the Retweet button triggers an exact re-broadcast, with no comment/changes. This is often called a “native retweet” — here’s a more detailed explanation of different retweet methods)

MT = Modified (re)Tweet. Used when a user retweets another tweet but has made changes to the original tweet. This is usually to make the tweet plus any comments added still fit in the 140 character limit.

Here's the original tweet so you can see the changes I made (subtle but since they are someone else's words, I think it's best to err on the side of cautious when changing them!):


#hashtag = a word or phrase beginning with # symbol. This is a way of grouping messages with a common theme. For example #Bordeaux is used by people all around the city of Bordeaux, where I live, when they tweeting something about the city itself or that might be relevant to other people that live here. Anyone can create or use any hashtag they like but keep it to 1-2 hashtags per tweet at most (stats have shown 3+ in one tweet have less engagement). ( is a great resource for exploring the many popular hashtags on Twitter.)

#FF = Follow Friday hashtag. (Started as #followfriday, but it’s rarer to see that now because it takes up so many more characters!) A way to recommend interesting people to the rest of your followers– on Friday, as the name suggests. The concept & hashtag created by a user back in 2009 to help find interesting people to follow. Done right, it can be a great way to expand your Twitter network–but make sure you give your followers some context on your recommendations, not just a list of @usernames. (Here's a great breakdown of Follow Friday dos & don’ts.)


h/t = hat tip or heard through. A way of acknowledging the person you discovered the information through.


+1 = I agree! You’ll see this a lot ahead of non-native retweets (retweets that include comments) and it’s used as a way to show you agree/endorse the original tweet wholeheartedly.


Twitter's Fail Whale

Fail Whale = the graphic that appears when Twitter “breaks” (ie. is “over capacity”). (You only see this if you are using Twitter through Especially in the first few years, Twitter used to “break” quite a bit and the cute Fail Whale graphic wormed it’s way into the hearts of Twitter users, even if it was frustrating when the network went down. (More on the Fail Whale)

OH (overheard), IRL (in real life), b/c (because), btw (by the way), IMHO (in my honest/humble opinion)… the list goes on! Many are taken from text/SMS language and of course, short forms will continue to evolve so check out this Twitter dictionary if you come across one you don't know.

Take action now

  • Pick out one or two people you follow to feature on #FF this week. (Be sure to tell your followers WHY to follow them!)

BONUS: Write the tweet and schedule it in your social media management tool. (How to schedule tweets in Hootsuite.)

I’d love to hear from you

Does the “language” around social media trip you up? Do you feel left out when people use techy vocabulary you don't understand?

Do you have a twitter-ism I’ve missed? Please share in the comments! (I read & respond to every single one.)

If you found this Twitter language guide useful, please share it on Facebook, Twitter or Google+ using the buttons right below : )

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>> In this free training you'll learn:

  • The number one mistake people make when it comes to their social media content
  • How to generate a month’s worth of content in a few short hours(using the same system I use AND teach my private clients)
  • What works (& what doesn’t) on Facebook and Twitter (with TONS of real examples)
  • How to automate this piece of your social media presence so it works hard getting you noticed while you’re busy doing other stuff

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4 Responses to How to speak Twitter’s language

  1. Marsha June 7, 2013 at 20:27 #

    This was great – I consider myself an aficionado, but there were even ones in here *I’d seen and didn’t know!

  2. Beth August 22, 2014 at 03:33 #

    Bookmarking! I’m new to Twitter and frankly nervous about messing it up – you’re right, it is a language of its own. Didn’t know quite a few of these things, thanks!


  1. [Link Round-Up] Making Twitter Work For Your Business - Systems Scientist - December 17, 2015

    […] How To Speak Twitter’s Language (@JackieJohnstone) […]

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