TRANSITION TO TWITTER: Teenagers create a world of subtweets and slang

Your parents, your grandma, your long-lost cousin Bill – they’re all on Facebook. What was once the frontier of social media is settled.

But now there’s a new frontier, the Wild West of social media – Twitter.

And of the over 70 percent of Country Day high-school students who have a Twitter account, half say they tweet at least once a week.

They’ve exploited the unregulated nature of Twitter, creating their own world and subculture.

“(On Twitter) there’s no filter,” senior Skovran Cunningham, a one-year Twitter user, said.

“It’s cool, raw, and people feel freer to say stuff because there aren’t any authority figures.”

Cunningham said that once parents got on Facebook, most of his friends left.

“(On Twitter) you can still post stuff you don’t want your parents to see,” Cunningham said.

So what exactly are these teens tweeting?

One key aspect of this unregulated Twitter subculture is subtweeting.

A subtweet, junior Elie Kuppermann explains, is a non-confrontational tweet used to address a specific but unnamed person.

For example, if your co-worker Jim stole your parking place, you could subtweet, “I can’t believe you just did that. . . You’re the worst.”

While the tweet doesn’t specifically mention Jim, when Jim reads the tweet in his feed, he’ll know it’s directed towards him – hence the “sub.”

Kuppermann said that these subtweets can sometimes start fights on Twitter, where people will subtweet back and forth.

Last year, senior Lauren Larrabee deleted her Twitter account partly for this reason.

“(Twitter) added more negative things to my life than anything,” she said.

“They want to call someone out on something, but they’re really just hiding behind their phone because they’re too cowardly to say it to their face.”

The appeal, junior Dakota Cosgrove says, lies in the indirect, vague nature of the subtweet.

“If you get annoyed with someone, sometimes you can’t say it to their face,” she said.

“But on Twitter, you can subtweet about someone, and you can always deny that it was about them,” she said.

Cosgrove says that even she has been subtweeted about.

“It’s kind of hurtful,” she said.

But even with the negative effects of subtweets, Cosgrove, a two-year Twitter user, sees the indirect, unregulated nature of Twitter as a positive, too.

“You can be more yourself with less judgment, because if you’re going to get judged, you don’t have to deal with it in person,” she said.

Also Cosgrove says she often relates better to the Internet community due to the sheer size of Twitter and variety of people.

But the encouraged freedom of expression also results in some users tweeting obscure, vague tweets in order to appear “edgy.”

Kuppermann says that nonsensical tweets are typical of high-school students, and they are a sign of immaturity.

“(Teens) try to seem cool when they say stuff that has a mild shock value,” said senior Alex Bushberg, an active Twitter user for three years.

For example, Bushberg says that someone might tweet an unattributed song lyric or a single, cryptic word.

“People do it to seem like nonconformists,” he said.

However some, like Cunningham, say that there is more to these vague, seemingly meaningless tweets.

“You can share thoughts that are intimate, and you might even say stuff that won’t make sense to anyone else but you,” he said.

And surprisingly, these tweets often get “favorited” or “retweeted” despite their cryptic nature.

“No one should care (about these tweets), but people do,” Cunningham said. “It’s like, why do I care about that dude’s wheelbarrow poem?

“It’s sometimes cool to try to figure out what they’re trying to say.”

Another aspect of this meaningless, cryptic subculture of Twitter is the distinctive slang.

“A lot of words that people start using, they hear in rap songs, online and on Vine (video-sharing social media),” Cosgrove said.

“They think they’re cool and they want to fit in, and they want to be trendy.”

Twitter slang includes words like bae, yeet, thot, finna, yung, shawty, swag, swerve, squad and urb. 

Cosgrove says that there’s a tenuous definition when it comes to these words.

For example, Cosgrove defines yeet as “I’m going to leave,” while the popular crowdsourced website Urban Dictionary has a total of 19 definitions of the word.

Definitions on Urban Dictionary range from “a term used to express excitement” to “a wild-card for any curse word.” However, Cosgrove’s definition of the word isn’t listed.

Kuppermann, a two-year Twitter user, says that after repeated use, a lot of these words lose meaning.

“No one knows exactly what (yeet) means anymore,” she said.

However, some words like bae, which was recently added to the Oxford English Dictionary, and squad have generally well-established definitions.

Out of the 28 definitions on Urban Dictionary, most agree that a squad is a posse, gang or group of friends.

Cunningham is in one of these self-proclaimed squads with seniors George Cvetich and Erik Morfin – they call themselves the trap squad.

Even on Twitter they’ve changed their names to make them trap squad oriented.

Skovran Cunningham and George Cvetich are no more. Meet trap stallion 916 and trap jesus 916. 

Cosgrove is also in a squad with her dance friends, and coincidentally, they too call themselves the trap squad. 

“My trap squad and I say yeet, but we aren’t really serious when we do or say these things,” she said.

“It’s all kind of a joke.”

Some of these words, such as yeet, become so popular that they are part of many teens’ vocabulary, not only on the web but in conversation too.

But Kuppermann avoids using Twitter slang too much, as she finds it excessive and annoying.

“On our class trip, there were certain people that felt the need to say yeet every other word on a six-hour bus ride,” she said.

But luckily for Kuppermann, words like yeet and swag are part of only a small subculture of Twitter.

Kuppermann says that most adults she follows tweet for news-related reasons – they haven’t caught on to the vague, teen-driven lexicon or passive-aggressive subtweet culture.

And that’s why Twitter, the Wild West of social media, is so popular with teens. Their parents don’t have a clue.

Previously published in the print edition on Jan. 13, 2015.

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