What’s with the funny symbols on Twitter?

Thanks to Oprah (@oprah), the CNN (@cnn) / Ashton Kutcher (@aplusk) follower race, and almost every other news organization, there has been a recent influx of non-tech users being introduced to the wonderful world of Twitter.  In general, Twitter is a pretty basic system to use and understand: it centers around the simple question “What are you doing?”, allowing people to post everything from late breaking news, to their opinions of the local record store, to raising money for a good cause, to sharing the exploits of their cute little puppy.

There is one question about “what’s with the funny symbols?” that I’ve gotten a few times from Twitter newbies, so I figured I’d write a quick post shedding a little light on the subject, and hopefully provide a little insight into how to quickly become a Twitter power user.

There are three primary symbols that are used through Twitter: “@”, “RT”, and “#”.

The “@” is used to signify when a particular post is addressed to or references someone. For example, if someone wanted to reply to something that I said, they would preface their post with “@chayner” (“chayner” is my Twitter username). The “@” symbol could also be used later in the post to reference someone (ie: “I am going to the movies with @chayner”).

The “RT” is short for “ReTweet”. You would use “RT” if you wanted to pass on what someone else has already said. The typical syntax is “RT @username: [original post]” where the @username is the username of the person who original made the statement.  An example of this would be: “RT @centresource: Congrats to our recently-launched client, the Two Futures Project, for being featured on the Huffington Post: http://www.urlzen.com/env“.

The “#” is used to tag an event, meme, or other keyword to group Twitter posts together. This is also known as a “hashtag”. This allows people to use http://search.twitter.com to search for posts on given topics, or even use sites like http://www.tweetchat.com to “chat” with others by all using the hashtag. For example, I’ve watched Red Sox games with other fans throughout the country, by following and responding to any post that includes #redsox.

Are there other symbols that you’re seeing that wou have no idea what they mean?  Leave us a comment, and we’ll update this post to include a description / example.

For a more detailed tutorial for Twitter beginners, check out this amazing post by Nashville’s own Michael Hyatt (@michaelhyatt), CEO at Thomas Nelson, and an avid Twitter’er.

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  • meena

    What about a period before the @?

  • Chip Hayner

    About a year ago, Twitter made the decision to start filtering out “@” replies in your feed that were addressed to people you do not follow. The idea was that this way, the only conversations you’d be exposed to would be the ones between individuals that you followed. Some replies, however, are wanted to be shared with all of your followers. People figured out that by adding a period before the @ reply (or more correctly, simply starting your tweet with something other than the @ sign), they were able to bypass this filtering and expose the message to all of their followers.

  • http://www.brighterscribe.com Kyra

    What does the use of asterisks mean when I see it in a tweet? Eg. @somebody *winks* speak the truth.

    • Jack Sullivan

      It just means an action, not said in the sentence. So, the example you were talking about, somebody *winks* speak the truth, it pretty much means the following.
      “Sam,” said John, winking, “spoke the truth!”
      I’m not too sure if that sentence is a good example, but pretty much when a word is surrounded by asterix’s it is an action done at that point in the sentence, but not actually said… I hope that works!

  • http://www.brighterscribe.com Kyra

    What does the use of asterisks mean when I see it in a tweet? Eg. @somebody *winks* speak the truth.

    • Jack Sullivan

      It just means an action, not said in the sentence. So, the example you were talking about, somebody *winks* speak the truth, it pretty much means the following.
      “Sam,” said John, winking, “spoke the truth!”
      I’m not too sure if that sentence is a good example, but pretty much when a word is surrounded by asterix’s it is an action done at that point in the sentence, but not actually said… I hope that works!

  • Amanda Weston

    what does the blue tick next to a twitterer’s name mean?

  • Amanda Weston

    what does the blue tick next to a twitterer’s name mean?

  • fatima Elmosleh

    nice explaining!

  • fatima Elmosleh

    nice explaining!

  • Linda Anderson

    Great article. Best I’ve seen for explaining the different symbols used. Thanks.

  • Linda Anderson

    Great article. Best I’ve seen for explaining the different symbols used. Thanks.

  • Gardner

    What do asterisks mean in tweets?

  • Gardner

    What do asterisks mean in tweets?

  • Gardner

    How do you set off a parenthetical expression in twitter?

  • Gardner

    How do you set off a parenthetical expression in twitter?