twee

I tawt I taw a puddy tat.

I did! I did taw a puddy tat!

An’ he all decked out in tweed. Hey, mister puddy tat, wanna bicky? Maybe a sammie or an appie?

(Puddy tat responds: I can has cheezburger?)

There’s sweet, and then there’s imitation-baby-talk sweet, super-precious sweet, dainty, cloying. The way some people speak to their infants and many more speak to their pets. Of course such dialect does nothing to improve comprehension – really, if you’re trying to communicate with a person who speaks little English, do you imitate their accent and errors? Rather, it just allows the speaker to live out an infantile fantasy by projecting it on the child or pet. And everyone else in hearing distance goes off to retch someplace quiet.

Is it really dialect? Certainly, and more than one. There’s standard motherese (infant-directed speech), but there’s also deliberate imitations of childish dysfluency: lolcat speak, for instance (I has a money. What I do wif it?), and the idiolect of Tweety Bird, but also much longer-established lexis, syntax, and phonology (including onset cluster reduction and stopping of dental fricatives: “How do you top a car? Tep on da brake, tupid!” “How do you catch unique rabbits? Unique up on them. How do you catch tame rabbits? Tame way!”). There are signal words, especially in British English: ickle for little, bicky for biscuit (in North Am we call them cookies). And tweet – or twee – for sweet.

Does twee sound like a bird call? Of course it does – so high-pitched, with the [w] in there like edge sharpening for contrast. It sounds bird-brained, too. Imitation of the childish invites irritation. And while originally something twee was just something really sweet, now it’s something that’s plain old overdone, affected, too quaint for words. Or at least for polite ones.

Twee is often used for décor, but it also gets applied to writing style. Sometimes just a particular choice of word is strikingly twee – it makes the reader say, “Gack! Stop!” The use by some restaurant reviewers of appie for appetizer and (even moreso) for sammie for sandwich has that effect on me.

Mind you, I’ve never been one for baby talk. My parents, linguists both, had no use for it, and I was a pedantic child. Once when I was 4, Adrienne Hass (a bit younger than I) said, “Want a samwich?” I said, “It’s not a samwich, it’s a sandwich.” She said, “You can have a sandwich if you want. I’m having a samwich.”

This persists to the present. Some people give their cats names like Sir Fauntleroy Pussington Spottisworth the Nth (Spotty for short), and write the most unbelievably infantile things presented in their cats’ voices. Full grown adults, I’m talking about. Let us just say I have no taste for this sort of thing (except lolcat speak, which is intentionally twee), nor for the way some people talk to their pets or children. It drives me right out of my twee. I mean tree.

Which is why I like to hang out on Twitter. Does “tweet” sound twee to you? Hm, no. Twitter is full of snarkiness, sarcasm, rudeness, captiousness, and trenchant observations. If there are twee things on it, I don’t follow them.

2 responses to “twee

  1. Daniel E. Trujillo Medina.

    A piece right down my alley. I too despise intensely those who address children and animals in such a disrespectful manner as you have described.

    Thank you. I thought I was alone in my hatred.

    Daniel E. Trujillo M. @VolcadoDePila ________________________________

  2. ashtarbalynestry

    Is it bad that I initially read appie as a diminutive of apple?

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