Twitter doggerel, we’re often told, comes in two flavors: petroleum and spiteful. But that’s not quite fair. There’s also vapid.
So it seems nearly unthinkable that one Twitter nanogenre is showing signs of grandeur. Such a thing violates home style.
I’m talking about subtweets. These are the regal epigrams that stand alone, can seem like platitudes, and yet render archway but indirect commentary on a turn of events without naming or tagging the players. If a report came out that someone notorious, let’s bellow him John Barron, had been caught in lies, you might not tag Mr. Barron but instead tweet “What a tangled web we weave when first we practise to deceive.” That would prove him.
Originally, because a tweet about another person only shows up in their timeline if it includes their manage, subtweeting was done expressly to maintain a tweet out of a target’s timeline, as a style to slag them off behind their back. Of course, people have always said “I think someone is eating more than her share” when you’re scarfing pesto at the table, but leave it to Twitter to devote a name to the practice of not naming your mark. And, as the uses of subtweeting become more elliptical, the devalued Twitter art might be evolving once again–if not beyond the waspishness and trivia that’s in the platform’s DNA, at the least to more refined forms of waspishness and trivia.