Opinion

OPINION | GREG HARTON: X, formerly known as Twitter, just doesn’t hit the spot

A couple of letter writers have suggested lately that the "formerly known as Twitter" reference to the social media site X should cease. They're probably right. Does anyone ever refer to Walmart as "formerly Walton's 5 & 10?" OK, maybe from a corporate standpoint, that was never technically the lineage, but the point is, when does something stop being known by its "formerly known as" moniker?

That kind of language is usually included when a prior relationship or identification remains a stronger reference than the newly adopted one. Yoko Ono is unlikely to ever be mentioned without a sentence that says something like "She was the wife of musician John Lennon, a member of the Beatles" (or would that be a former member of the Beatles?). But it's likely very few people would introduce Ono as the former wife of Toshi Ichiyanagi or Anthony Cox, although either description would be accurate.

I think the reason people cling to the "formerly known as" reference to Twitter is that Elon Musk's decision to rebrand as X was so dad-gummed awful. X is just a letter of the alphabet. How do you market that?

And what do you call it when you post a message to X (other than barking at the moon, perhaps)? At least with Twitter, users of the service could say they were "tweeting." What's the equivalent under the new brand? Are you X'ing, or would it be "X'ting?" It's further proof of Musk's error in making the change. His company says a message on X is now called a "post." How is that better than a "tweet," a term that actually reinforced the brand every time someone said it, back when it was Twitter?

Granted, Musk's choice of X was solid if one is limiting himself to just letters. The writing site Grammarly (now there's a brand!) says "X" is one of the least-used letters of the alphabet, along with Z and Q. So there's not a tremendous amount of room for confusion except for pirates and treasure hunters (X marks the spot). There certainly have been some superstars who have managed to be well known by mononyms -- a name composed of a single word. There's Elvis, Madonna, Cher, Beyonce and Adele. Or we can go really old school with Plato and Socrates. And likely the best-known example, Jesus. But letters? Not so much.

An Arkansas version might plausibly be "Asa!" with exclamation point included, based on former Gov. Hutchinson's gubernatorial campaign signs. Unfortunately, his effort to push his political career into national success met with another punctuated response from voters: "Who?"

But what success has come from a single letter? There are a few minor examples, at least in fiction. James Bond, as 007, often reported to Q in the films when he needed some spymaster gadgets. That apparently was a shortened version of "quartermaster." Gene Roddenberry named a popular and omnipotent character as Q, but his fame was pretty much limited to the Star Trek universe of fans.

Perhaps a prime example of poor rebranding arose from Prince Rogers Nelson, who gained enough fame through his music to simply and affectionately be known as Prince. But when he was 35 years old, he changed his name to a symbol even he said was unpronouncable. He eventually became Prince again and the entire episode might have been a way to disengage from a contractual relationship with his record company.

At least most of us, I think, can be consonant with the idea Musk was right to disavow(el) rebranding Twitter as "A" or "E" or "I." (or even "O" or "U"). That would have left everyone even more confused.

For now, we're stuck with X, a social media site formerly known as something far more useful than it is today.

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