subtweet

[ suhb-tweet ]
/ ˈsʌbˌtwit /

noun

(on the Twitter website) a hostile or otherwise negative post that is addressed to or about a particular person but does not mention the person’s username or does not name the person at all.

verb (used with or without object)

to post such a message or tweet about (someone) on Twitter: I wish she’d stop subtweeting and talk to me in person.

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Origin of subtweet

2009; sub(liminal) + tweet (in the sense “a message posted on Twitter”)

OTHER WORDS FROM subtweet

subtweeter, noun
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2020

ABOUT THIS WORD

What does subtweet mean?

A subtweet is a negative post on the social media site Twitter, targeting a certain person without directly mentioning them or their username.

Where does subtweet come from?

A blend of subliminal and tweet, the term subtweet emerged on Twitter in 2009. An early instance, and illustration of the social media practice, comes from user @Chelsea_x_Rae that year: “I hate when I see people who dnt txt or call me or even tweet me anymore make general tweets … Yes that was a SubTweet.”

As this tweeter makes clear, the subject of a subtweet shouldn’t know it’s about them, as subtweeting is the internet equivalent of talking behind someone’s back (hence, subliminal tweet). A subtweet is usually sent when someone wants to avoid confrontation with the subject but still wants to complain about them.

Subtweet spread in the 2010s, when publications ranging from BuzzFeed to The Guardian widely noted both the term and phenomenon. Gossip blogs and tabloids also reported on the subtweets of such celebrities as Nicki Minaj, Kim Kardashian, Chris Brown, and Adam Levine. Around 2015, as noted in publications from The Washington Post to Teen Vogue, internet culture began to look down on subtweeting due to its passive-aggressive nature—not to mention the confusion subtweets can cause without a clear reference, leading some to mistake themselves as its subject.

How is subtweet used in real life?

A subtweet can be used as a noun (e.g. I saw that subtweet about your ex) and verb (e.g., I saw you subtweeted about your ex). Generally, subtweeters don’t announce they are subtweeting unless they are wryly noting they are engaging in the practice (You better believe that was a subtweet.).

Among some internet users, subtweet is used to criticize the practice as immature or passé. Among others, subtweet is used in discussions of the nature of internet culture itself, often incorporated into memes. One popular meme features the glass slipper being placed on the foot of Disney’s Cinderella with the caption: “That subtweet wasn’t about you, but if the shoe fits …”

Although subtweet originated and is largely used on Twitter, shady posts on other social media sites are often called subtweets. On Facebook, a similar practice is sometimes called vaguebooking. The term subtweet has drifted into speech as a casual speech as an underhanded or behind-the-back remark. For instance, if someone said, “Someone around here should mind their own business,” an internet-savvy person might reply, “Wow, what a subtweet!”

More examples of subtweet:

“Ima subtweet about my bf first before i confront him on why im upset”
—@PinkMiruku, April 2018

“I like to read every subtweet and imagine what I would say if it was bout me”
—@cigfig, November 2014

Note

This content is not meant to be a formal definition of this term. Rather, it is an informal summary that seeks to provide supplemental information and context important to know or keep in mind about the term’s history, meaning, and usage.