A non-native English speaker said on television that the word twitter originated from an English verb to twite, which means to twitter. Is this true? Does the verb twite exist at all?
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The Oxford English Dictionary does include an entry for twitter which is based on the verb to twit. A twitter is one who twits, that is:
The etymology for this verb is:
Tracing back, the etymology of atwite is:
So the verb to twite did exist and spawned a related noun. However, this is not the same twitter that is used for the sound of a bird. In the case of a bird, twitter is both noun and verb. In this case, the etymology of the verb is:
The onomatopoeia also predates the verb to twite. The form in which a bird twitters emerged with Chaucer in 1374. The form in which a person twitters to tattle-tale appeared in 1530. So twitter to refer to the sound of a bird is an onomatopoeia. It does not, however, come from the verb "to twite" although there is another definition of twitter which does. The two homonyms come from different roots, although they currently have the same form.
Also, if twiting ever was a verb, it sure doesn't show up anywhere in cyberspace. I googled for twited, twiting, to twite, etc, and came up with nil. Twit is a verb, and twite and twites are nouns, but there is no such verb.
A Twite is a small bird, a member of the finch family.
It is from its name that we get the word "twitter", which describes the fast, chatty noise it makes.
The web service Twitter was most likely (it is a common belief, but as far as I know unconfirmed) named after this, to exemplify it usage of rapid-fire short (<140 character) messages.
So, 'twitter' in this sense describes the conversation itself, with each message being a 'tweet' (or 'twit' in the original spelling)