Chaucer, the First to Twitter

Before getting back to bats, I was curious about some other verbs ending in the frequentative –er. I grabbed a turkey sandwich and a decaf tea. I like my caffeine, but I know my limits.

Bite, sip, click. My thumbnails clattered against my phone. Clatter means, as the OED puts it: ‘to make or emit a rapid succession of short sharp noises in striking a hard and dry body.’ Okay, there’s your repetition, but what does clat mean? It’s an obsolete word for ‘to rattle, strike noisily’ or ‘to chatter, tattle.’

bird 256px-Petroica_boodang_male_-_Knocklofty

By JJ Harrison ( (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

Waver is to wave repeatedly; sure, I’ll buy that. Chatter is to keep on chatting; flicker to keep flicking. What about twitter? It doesn’t mean to repeatedly twit, a transitive verb meaning ‘to blame, find fault with, censure, reproach, upbraid (a person), esp. in a light or annoying way; to cast an imputation upon; to taunt.’ Well, on the other hand, some would say that’s what Twitter is all about. I guessed that twitter might be derived from tweet. Wrong. Birds didn’t start tweeting until the mid 19th century, but they were twittering back in 1374 when Chaucer wrote, “The Iangelynge [jangling] bryd..enclosed in a streyht cage..twiterith desyrynge [desiring] the wode with her swete voys.”


 Portrait of Chaucer by Thomas Hoccleve in the Regiment of Princes (1412). Hoccleve personally knew Chaucer, so the portrait is probably reasonably accurate.
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