Since late 2007, an obscure Twitter account has been automatically tweeting a single word every half an hour. The ultimate goal: to tweet every word in the English language. We spoke to the guy behind Everyword.
As of this writing, Everyword has tweeted 63,186 words. It's on the letter N at the moment. A few minutes ago it tweeted "nudity". I decided to look into Everyword yesterday after someone I follow on Twitter retweeted Everyword, putting "nubile," discomfortingly alone, into my feed.
Everyword's Twitter profile reads, "Twittering every word in the English language. Task will complete in 2013." It sounds sort of ominous. What happens after all the words have been tweeted? Twitter shuts down? The Singularity?
Digital artist Adam Parrish started Everyword in late 2007 when he was enrolled in NYU's Interactive Telecommunications Program. He was inspired in part by Every Icon, a project by the artist John F. Simon which uses a 32 x 32 grid to attempt to "produce every possible image."
"I like the idea of art works that deal with arranging mundane units (like pixels or words), algorithmically 'exhausting' themselves over a period of time," he told us in an email.
He also saw Everyword a way to poke fun at Twitter, then just a little over a year old.
"It began as kind of a snarky stunt—-a parody of (what I perceived to be) the needless verbosity of Twitter," Parrish said. "'You like posting words on Twitter? Well, here's a thing that is posting EVERY word! ha HA!'"
Parrish set up a Python script that runs every half hour and tweets the next word on an alphabetical list of 109,229 words. Obviously, this is not every word in the English language—a number that is impossible to pin down. It's not even every word in most dictionaries. (The Oxford English Dictionary has more than 170,000 words.) Annoyed Twitter have pointed this out, but Parrish says that's part of the point.
"Why should the OED, or Merriam-Webster, or whoever else, have the authority to say what is a "real word" and what isn't?" he wrote. "It's completely arbitrary, and it can be dangerous (denying language "official" status can be a tool of political oppression)."
Word-by-word, tweet-by-tweet, Everyword has taken on a life of its own. Sometimes it resonates bizarrely with current events, as when it tweeted "Niggerhead" on October 2nd, in the middle of the controversy over Rick Perry's old Texas hunting camp of the same name.
But Everyword has mostly toiled in obscurity. Until earlier this year, Everyword had less than 100 followers. But in recent days it's grown to 500, and they're unusually invested in Everyword's slow churn towards the end of the alphabet. For a while, Everyword was stuck on words that started in "non-", prompting groans from followers. They were very relieved when Everyword got out of the prefix rut. "I thought we'd never get passed the non words," tweeted journalist Katie Rosman.
Currently, Parrish says Everyword is about 60% of the way through its English word list. Although it says on its Twitter profile that it will finish in 2013, Parrish says new calculations show it will be more like May of 2014. "It's hard to give an exact date, given that Twitter goes down from time to time."
That will be a sad day. With a few dumb lines of Python code, Everyword manages to say more in a single word than most human Twitter users ever do.
[Photo, top, via Shutterstock.com]