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How Shakespeare Art Thou Twitter?

We at Applied Works have a long-standing fascination with language and its roots. In fact, we have a number of R&D projects bubbling away in the studio on that theme. This post focuses on a Twitter analyser we built in 2015 (but relevant this year on the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s death), which looks at the prevalence of Shakespearean words and phrases used by various Twitter accounts.

Our long-time friend and collaborator Anthony Hamelle, has the following Shakespeare words and phrases hidden within his tweets:

advertising (19), lower (2), frugal, torture, lackluster [sic], label, flawed, outbreak, fixture, critic (2), brave new world

The last term ‘brave new world’, came from this tweet linking to a Wired article on the Internet of Things:

Most of us will know this phrase as the title of Aldous Huxley’s novel, but it was sourced from Shakespeare’s The Tempest (Act V, Scene I):

Oh, wonder!
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is!
O brave new world,
That has such people in’t!

 

The title of Huxley’s 1932 dystopia deliberately echoed Miranda’s sense of wonder and trepidation in The Tempest, combined with a suspicion towards Shakespeare’s ‘new world’ – America – and the dangers of science which borders on magic. Huxley quoted a further 14 Shakespeare plays in the book.

We also looked at a number of celebrity Twitter feeds. Taylor Swift’s account threw up results such as this one:

The word in question here, ‘unreal’, was invented by Shakespeare to capture the horror of the supernatural in Macbeth (Act III, scene IV), as Macbeth struggles to cope with the appearance of his murdered friend Banquo’s ghost:

Hence, horrible shadow!
Unreal mockery, hence!

Unreal has a distinctly modern vernacular, sitting comfortably alongside ‘Omigod’, and in the same vein as social media terms such as *facepalm* or #epicfail. At the time of running the analyser in April 2015, Taylor Swift had used ‘unreal’ a further eight times in other Tweets:

unreal (9), lonely, birthplace, bet (2), champion, blanket (2), hint, All of a sudden, addiction, excitement, label

Of the several dozen celebrity accounts we analysed, the most ‘Shakespearean’ celebrity we found was Lord Sugar, with a frequency of 14.5 words for every 10,000 used:

impartial, advertising (10), bet (7), excitement, exposure, lower, There’s no such thing (2), summit (2), hint (2), dawn

The algorithm isn’t completely scientific – it won’t detect if Wayne Rooney’s use of champion is a noun or a verb, or whether Caitlin Moran is talking about her elbows or the band Elbow. But fun, nonetheless.