Twibel, platisher -- which words will ruin 2014?

Snow still covers the ground in many parts of the country, but the nation's neologists are keeping themselves busy and warm. No word so far has inspired the hatred "phablet" once engendered, but coming off a year when "cronut" and many flavors of "-splaining" became common, it's clear that we as a culture need to come to grips with new words -- or "new to us" words -- before it's too late to decide whether we want them.


This word is not new, but it elbowed its way into the spotlight around the beginning of this year, when Courtney Love went to court to defend a tweet. Ellyn Angelotti wrote about the case for Poynter, using the word twibel liberally.

The term "is uncommonly terrible," Nieman Journalism Lab director -- and frequent critic of Twitter-based portmanteaus -- Joshua Benton told Poynter in an email. "It’s unnecessary, for one thing, both linguistically ('Twitter libel' or 'libel on Twitter' would work just fine) and in terms of content (since it implies that libel on Twitter is somehow categorically different than libel on a blog or on Facebook)."

Benton also objects because the word "sounds awful and childish, like something you’d murmur when introducing New York Times Co. v. Sullivan to an infant."

Reached by phone in Florida, where she is preparing for a SXSW panel on Twibel, Angelotti said she thought she'd first read the term in a 2011 blog post. "I don't necessarily like creating new words for the sake of creating new words," she said, adding that it is not, in fact, clear whether traditional media law will apply smoothly to social media.

Defamation law was originally constructed with the understanding that people outside the media lacked its megaphone, Angelotti said. But as she wrote to commenters on an "On the Media" segment on the Love case, "now everyone can publish and develop an audience." (See Angelotti's paper on Twibel.)

Twitter, she told Poynter, "has been around for eight years and we're just now seeing our first defamation trial. Is this an indication that defamation ligation is not the ideal remedy?" Love walked, incidentally.


Sulia CEO Jonathan Glick foisted platisher on the world on Feb. 7, in an article on Re/code about publishers who provide a platform on which anyone can post -- like Gawker with its Kinja system, BuzzFeed with its community section or whatever the heck Medium is.

A platypus on a platform. (AP Photo/Dan Peled)

"Okay, you can laugh, but we still need a name," Glick wrote in his article, whose arguments about a shift in the content/engineering divide are very much worth reading, if the word "platisher" hasn't caused you to knife yourself in the eyes. The reaction to the word? "Universally negative, I'd say," Glick told Poynter in an email. "One guy liked it, I think."

Glick said he's sympathetic to the pain his neologism caused -- Gawker called it "word terrorism" -- but noted other words that have filled a need have settled in to stay. "Take 'webinar,'" he wrote. "I vaguely remember the gag response I got from hearing it the first 100 times. And now, I use it without even thinking."

The shock value of platisher actually helped, he wrote: "I figured if they reacted to the name, they'd share the post, and some of those people they shared it with would read it, and we'd start talking about the issues. And actually that is what happened."

Nieman has used platisher in at least two stories, a point on which Poynter sought clarification from Benton.

"Platisher is also terrible — it sounds like a kind of bird you find in marshy pastureland — but it at least has the benefit of being useful," he wrote. "Publishers that are also platforms (or vice versa) are a real and interesting phenomenon, and platisher sums the concept up efficiently. Plus, the alternatives that have been proposed — like publiform, which sounds like a bacterium you might get swimming in a dirty public swimming pool — aren’t any better."


What the hell is going on with Politico? I turn to Politico for a lot of things, but never wordplay.

And yet February has seen at least two writers for the Arlington, Va.-based publication become makers, not takers, when it comes to the English language.

"Call it a snow-pas," Tal Kopan wrote about an incident where U.S. Sen. Mark Warner's staff sent a tweet using the next-level-portmanteau "Snowbamacare."

Kopan's flourish could easily be written off as a light-hearted pun, had it not been followed a week later by a Sarah Kendzior article in Politico Magazine about other outlets that published photo galleries of violence in Ukraine. "A new genre had been born: the apocalypsticle," she wrote.

Did an editor wedge that beauty into her story? Does it reflect some corporate imperative to unplug spellcheck and let imagination take wing? I emailed Kendzior to ask about the genesis of the term, and whether she was tempted to simplify it to apocalisticle. "I made it up yesterday while writing the article," she replied.

  • Andrew Beaujon

    Andrew Beaujon reported on the media for Poynter from 2012 to 2015. He was previously arts editor at and managing editor of Washington City Paper. He's the author of the 2006 book "Body Piercing Saved My Life," about Christian rock and evangelical Christian culture.


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