Renowned for its 140-character-long Tweeting service, Twitter launched in 2006 and has since gained worldwide popularity. Twitter is recognised as a space where users can rapidly and succinctly post up-to-date news and information about their own lives and beyond – but how has this character limit affected how we communicate?


There isn’t much room to elaborate, is there?

Primarily, and noticeably, Twitter posts are – and have to be – economical with what they say: if a word isn’t necessary in conveying an idea, it gets cut. Is this character limit for seemingly offhand posts a blessing or a burden?

Short posts ensure that a casual reader will most likely read to the end of the Tweet, due to Tweets being no longer than two to three lines on the page. But these short posts also impose limits on how much they can say in one post – so what happens if a user wants to say more?

Users can post strings of Tweets, joining them together with some form of indication such as ‘…’ or (c) – not to be confused with © – at the end of each Tweet to show that the Tweet will be continued in the next post. However, this may seem clunky – and Twitter is all about not being clunky. Services such as Twitlonger allow users to link bodies of text to their tweets that exceed 140 characters, but these services can take users away from the feel of Twitter’s short and punchy posts.

To compensate for the space, our use of language has changed. Users often joke that after exceeding 140 characters they have to decide which ‘grammar crime’ they must commit in order to make their Tweet fit. For example, ‘text talk’ is resurfacing: ‘ur’ is replacing ‘your’ (and that knocks two characters off of a Tweet). This isn’t to say that text talk should be associated with a misunderstanding of language: if anything, intentional text talk is often interpreted as a way of conveying sarcasm in Tweets, which is usually difficult to convey through Standard English.

Punctuation is also used differently: often, it isn’t used at all. Perhaps this is to save on the character limit of Tweets, or as a way of echoing thought fragments that aren’t complete sentences: A 140-character-long Tweet without commas or full stops is still manageable to read aloud due to its short length.

But times might be changing: there are rumours that Twitter plans on expanding its character limit to 10,000 (for reference, this article is just over 2,800). What would this mean for language? Will punctuation resurface? Or will language take an unexpected turn somewhere between economical and excessive?

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