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RT versus Via.

Without doubt, the biggest annoyance in twitter is the proliferation of hashtag games, but in a very close second place comes the (seemingly increasing) misuse of “RT” and “via” in tweets. The difference between the two is subtle but certainly not difficult to understand.

RT stands for “Re-Tweet”. All this means is that what you’re reading is a verbatim quote or “forward” of somebody else’s tweet.

Via is used where some news, link or other information is being forwarded but with some original content added by the “re-tweeter”, such as a comment. Or the initial tweet may even be re-phrased or re-worded entirely.

So, for example, Luke might tweet:

Found a great deal on power converters at Tosche Station. Check out http://www.toschedeals.tat

If Ben saw this message and simply wanted to share the info with his followers, he could Re-Tweet it by copying and pasting the tweet, remembering to insert “RT @Luke:” before the quoted text. The outcome would be this:

RT @Luke: Found a great deal on power converters at Tosche Station. Check out http://www.toschedeals.tat

Meanwhile, of course, Yoda might see Luke’s message and like to pass on the information to his followers with his own unique patois. In this case he would use the “via” syntax, which lets him say what he likes but attributes the info to his source, Luke:

Looking? Found great prices on power converters you have i would say, hmm? http://www.toschedeals.tat /via @Luke

That makes sense, right? I think so but it seems a great many twitterers don’t and more often than not you will see a “via” used where the tweet is simply a verbatim quote, adding nothing new. The phenomenon also seems to have gotten worse since Twitter introduced their official “Retweet” system – It’s as-if those people who prefer not to use the new “Retweet” button think they’re no longer allowed to simply type “RT” and instead must use “/via” because that’s what they’ve seen other people doing.

Of course i seem terribly petty by taking the time to highlight this problem and complain but, like i said before, it annoys me intensely. It winds me up. It gets my goat. It grinds my gears. Choose whichever phrase you prefer, it’s still an irritating misuse of a common grammar. One is a direct quotation and one is a reference or attribution.

In the same way you can spot an idiot by the misuse of THERE, THEIR and THEY’RE out on the wilds of the web, so on twitter you spot them by their misuse of RT and VIA.

PS. There’s more discussion of the use of /via (and /cc and /by, as well as mention of RT systems old and new) here on Chris Messina’s site. Chris is the “inventor” of the hashtag and this latest microsyntax.