Thats The Way Twitter Go

What Ron Washington, Yogi Berra and ‘Fargo’ Can Teach Us About Social Media

‘That’s the way baseball go.’ ‘It ain’t over ’til it’s over.’

Ron Washington, the Texas Rangers Manager, and Yogi Berra, respectively, play with words to inform while keeping their teams engaged. Wash’s succinct English transformation is a ‘rallying cry’ for the Texas Rangers as they take on the San Francisco Giants in the World Series.

Ron Washington Yogi Berra

Wash’s quote has become wildly successful viral, if unintentional, exercise in marketing that companies are always looking for to drive brand awareness, engagement or whatever social media buzz word they are watching. He has even spawned the obligatory listing of Wash-isms here.

Literati Get It Wrong, Yet Again

During different times for the Rangers, however, the grammarians of the Dallas area have criticized Wash’s diction, summed up in a Cowboy’s blog that the Cowboys are now slightly more likely to play a home Super Bowl than:

. . Texas Rangers’ skipper Ron Washington speaking the King’s English in a post-game press conference.

Saying You Are Right Doesn’t Make You Right

Social Media is generally thought of as a conversational media; therefore effective communication is only enabled by the ability to process and then respond such that the coding matches the intended audience.

Being a ‘know nothing know it all’ only proves that you are just what you are to your customers.

What the learned critics of Wash’s elocution miss are two key points:

The events of July 4, 1776:

. . .That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; . . .

Here in Real America we don’t care what the king, or any other monarch for that matter, has,is, or ever will be thinking about the way any of us speak.

US Navy Revolution Era Drummers

Perhaps is is British red, white and blue that Texans bleed?

Prescriptive vs. Descriptive

Spanish has the Real Academia Española, an official body to regulate what they consider standard Spanish; the members of the French L’Académie française even have uniforms. Mandarin Chinese, German and other linguistic regulators are available here.

English? American English?

We Have:

No Central Authority

Numerous Regional Dialects



English, particularly American English, is a template for Social Media. We don’t prescribe a particular manner of speech, rather we describe and at times celebrate those differences. The advent of Television was thought to endanger regional or dialectical differences in America . . . yeah, that didn’t happen.

Social Media Enables Transformation

Which Witch

Are those pronounced the same to you?

Used to be for most of America, however not so much anymore.

The largest change in the English language since moving from Middle to Modern English, yes pre-1750 England, is still taking place after the advent of TV right here in America. The Northern Cities Vowel Shift in the Upper Midwest of the US is an incredible phenomena dramatically changing spoken English in that area. Think ‘Fargo’ and you have the idea.

Expecting your customers to tweet or share on Facebook in Standard American English, or even worse correcting them because they use a dialect, is not listening to what they are saying. It is listening to what they are saying if you like the way they say it.

Tom Brokaw

Tom Brokaw may be a a good example of a Standard American English speaker, but the region inclusive of that dialect is not large or largely populated.

Map of Standard American English Speaking Region

Get ready for the different dialects of American English by reviewing the list here.

Communications Transformed

An excellent introduction into the regional dialects of America is the documentary ‘Do You Speak American?’. Taking from the documentary, for example, the use of Instant Messaging by African American teens in North Carolina:

MHSballa: well im gonna go so i’ll talk to u lata

MHSballa: 1

A Recent Tweet:

_andBeautyKills: – after tonight, don’t leave your boy roun’ me, umma #true playa fareal.

Imagining the IM’s or tweet spoken by Wash in enables instantaneous comprehension of the tweet; the ability to seamlessly code switch is something that you should require from social media experts. If you aren’t getting it, imagine what you could be missing . . .

Spoken Media

‘Social Media Metrics’ by Jim Sterne, an overview of the current Social Media landscape, mentions the ‘Evolution: The Eight Stages Of Listening’ blog post in which Jeremiah Owyang lays out the Social Media listening maturity model.

Implicit throughout Jeremiah’s model is having the ability to code-switch, ultimately on the fly. My initial review of the tools has not proven this ability.

If your goals include things like improved customer satisfaction and sales growth it is critical to be able to communicate with them in a productive manner that values them as individuals. Without the ability, Social Media efforts may prove difficult and even be misconstrued.

The Future Of History Past

What was the first American government document translated from English into another language?

Declaration of Independence, German, July 9, 1776

German Translation of US Declaration of Independence

Translated and published for the benefit of the German speaking community living in Philadelphia at the time of the Revolution, America has been multi-lingual since 1776.

If your firm is undertaking Social Media, planning for engagement with regional dialects opens a host of problems from the tools used to team members and potentially even corporate buy in.

Things to think about are:

  • Does my Social Media team include people who can code switch?
  • Do I have an understanding what dialectical segments make up my customers and potential customers?
  • Have I defined target segments in terms of the dialect which they would use to describe themselves?
  • Have I done the same for how they would describe my company?
  • Does my current tool only capture Standard American English?
  • Am I missing my target audience because my tool is improperly implemented?
  • Any questions, email me.

Look for an update with data shortly.

Technorati Tags: Linguistics, Natural Language Processing, NLP, NLTK, Python, Social Media, Twitter

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2 Responses to Thats The Way Twitter Go

  1. Lee Isensee says:

    Interesting perspective, if only this was put into consideration for social media sentiment analysis / opinion mining.

    An easy example of these difference occurs frequently for me and others from the New England area while traveling outside the US Northeast.

    “I’m all set”

    This simple phrase means ‘No thank you, I am not interested in any (or more) of what you are offering’. While frequently used at restaurants, it is also used in reference to other people or a conversation when you cannot deal with the situation.

    The beauty / fun of this simple statement is that outside of New England / the US Northeast area, it has absolutely no meaning. Due to this, I must be aware of my surroundings and apply simplified manners; “No thank you” or “I appreciate the offer/situation but I cannot have/do this any more/longer”.

    While using this phrase is often a one-on-one engagement, the translation over the internet has been a little more circumstantial and thus it has been my nature to (de)volve into an over simplified version of English.

    The real question being, is there a loss in the value of the message by changing the tone and dialect for the purpose of acceptance/understanding?


  2. Lee:

    Thanks for being the first comment!

    Excellent question. The line between mimicry and mockery is probably very fuzzy, with negative outcomes should mockery be received.

    The first step is to realize that with Social Media, we are receiving instead of transmitting. That most people get.

    After that, what?

    At the Monitoring Social Media Event a common theme were two types of Social Media:

    Marketing, Customer Service, etc.; Done Largely By Humans

    Keyword Tracking, Sentiment Analysis, etc.; Done Largely By Machines

    The biggest hurdle right now is that both goals depend largely on machines, very nice NLP programs, such as NLTK which I use. These machines are built off of a standard corpus, a set of structured text. Although a web corpus exists there is no Twitter corpus.

    If you want to help me build it PLEASE email me; it is a pretty big job and I am just one person.


    The value of communication in Social Media is determined by the receiver, so if you are communicating to your intended audience they determine the value of the message, the matter it was delivered in and so on.

    If someone is communicating with your organization then the value is what you receive it to be, if you receive dialects as poor English skills then that is the value to you. Unfortunately for you, in this case, your audience may be trying to communicate with you.

    Therefore it is our responsibility to craft messages that not only express our intended message but also deliver it in the format which it is easiest to be consumed.

    Social Medians:

    A topic which I couldn’t find the supporting facts for so I left it out, but somehow feel entirely comfortable posting in the comment section, is the demographic of those people involved in Social Media. My guess is that it skews younger; equal male to female overall, however differential rates in sub-sections.

    Is it that people who are middle aged or older don’t know how to tweet, update a Facebook status or track links on

    Probably not.

    My guess is that younger people have engaged with a more diverse array of dialects through music, TV, movies, et cetera. There may also be a higher degree of acceptance of non-standard English usage, incorrect Latin plurality in English drives me insane but someone who has a thick ESL accent is just fine.

    So if value is determined by the receiver, only a receiver who can correctly process the dialect will be able to tell you if the value has been diminished. At this point, that is probably not a machine.

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