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noun [countable]

a user of the Twitter short messaging service who is liked and admired by other users

'Day 10 was one of distractions off the court, with Australia Day festivities taking centre stage across the country … TWEET OF THE DAY: "Happy Australia day to all my Aussie tweethearts!" Kim knows how to get on the right side of her hosts.'

Yahoo Eurosport, UK 26th January 2011

It's Valentine's Day, that short period conventionally set aside for people to openly connect with their romantic side and make gestures demonstrating their feelings for that special someone. But even if romance seems to have passed you by and you're wondering if you'll ever be that 'significant other', then look no further than microblogging service Twitter, where, even if you've been unlucky in love, there's always the potential to be someone's tweetheart.

being someone's tweetheart carries none of the burdens of real-life romance – it's a kind of no-strings-attached appreciation of others

In the world of Twitter short messaging, a tweetheart is simply someone whose tweets (short posts of about 140 characters) are admired by others. In principle then, anyone has the opportunity to be another person's tweetheart – they just have to think of some interesting things to say which will capture the attention of fellow users. In the world of tweethearts, the conventional boundaries of looks, age, location and social status just don't apply – you can be the tweetheart of someone fifty years your junior, someone who lives on the other side of the world, or even of someone in the public eye – as professional tennis player and 2011 Australian Open champion Kim Clijsters demonstrated when she recently expressed affection for all her 'Aussie tweethearts' (see the citation above). As Clijsters' greeting illustrates, unlike sweethearts, tweethearts don't have exclusive rights to one another. A person can have more than one tweetheart, or to put it another way, people can be fellow tweethearts of the same person in an amicable 'many-to-one' kind of relationship. Neither is being a person's tweetheart necessarily a two-way street, you can be a person's tweetheart even if you don't consider them a tweetheart in return.

In short, being someone's tweetheart carries none of the burdens of real-life romance – it's a kind of no-strings-attached appreciation of others. If only things were that simple in the real world!

Background – tweetheart

Joining a host of other Twitter-inspired words, tweetheart is of course a play on the word sweetheart, which in more old-fashioned usage can mean 'boyfriend' or 'girlfriend' (e.g. They were childhood sweethearts), but is commonly used as a general reference to a person you love, especially a member of your family (e.g. Look after yourself, sweetheart). Though the most common sense of tweetheart is as described above (i.e. a reference to someone you like and admire on the basis of their Twitter activity), there's also some evidence for more intuitive, conventional senses, such as a romantic partner who you've met or talked about via Twitter.

Love and new word creation

Just as 'love makes the world go round', it also does a good job of inspiring the creation of new words and expressions. There have been various examples that have emerged in the eight years I've been writing BuzzWord, including the now well-established concepts of speed dating and civil union/partnership. More marginal in use have been coinages like marriage lite, a relationship which is similar to marriage but does not have the same legal implications, bromance, a close but non-sexual relationship between two men, smirting, flirting whilst smoking outside a restaurant or bar and, my own particular favourite, quirkyalone, a person who enjoys being single and who, though not averse to the idea of a relationship, prefers to remain alone rather than dating people for the sake of being paired off. Another more recent example is fauxmance, a blend of faux ('artificial') and romance, used to refer to a fake romance between celebrities which has been deliberately contrived in order to attract media attention.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

For teachers

Would you like to use this BuzzWord article in class? Visit onestopenglish.com for tips and suggestions on how to do just that! This downloadable pdf contains a student worksheet which includes vocabulary-building exercises and a focus on new words.

Last week …

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This article was first published on 14th February 2011.

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