What’s going to happen on Saturday when @everyword, the strangely beloved Twitter bot that’s spent more than six years tweeting every word in the English language, runs out of words?
will— everyword (@everyword) May 5, 2014
the— everyword (@everyword) September 27, 2013
world— everyword (@everyword) May 20, 2014
end— everyword (@everyword) November 24, 2009
For insight and comfort, I spoke to Adam Parrish, the man who programmed the account in the distant days of Twitter’s infancy, well before he envisioned the fame and glory of 2,000 people re-tweeting the word “Weed.” Parrish assured me that he has other Twitter bots to keep him warm at night—and that he doesn’t work for BuzzFeed.
You programmed @everyword back in 2007, when most people didn’t know what Twitter was.
It was back in the early history of Twitter, yeah.
What prompted you to start tweeting then?
I was in grad school at the time at the Interactive Telecommunications Program at NYU. It’s sort of a creative technology/design program. My friends were really on top of whatever the latest trend was. This was sort of at the same time that what’s-his-name from Foursquare had just sold Dodgeball to Google. So there was this frenzy about ways of communicating on the Web.
What gave you the idea for @everyword?
We were talking about different interesting art projects dealing with technology. One of the ones that really caught my fancy was John F. Simon’s “Every Icon,” which is a grid of 32 pixels that are basically every possible combination of 32 pixels by 32 pixels gone through one millisecond at a time by this program. It’s been doing this for a long time, and it will continue doing this for a long time because that’s a really big space of possibilities. That’s why I called it @everyword. But I was learning about conceptual writing from writers like Jackson Mac Low and Kenneth Goldsmith, who treat language as something you can take apart and put back together with procedure. “Uncreative writing” is Goldsmith’s term for it.
So those together sort of spurred this idea that there’s this Twitter thing and people are using it to “tweet.” The criticism early in Twitter’s lifetime was that there was no reason for it to exist because it was just people tweeting things out of context, tweeting about their sandwiches or whatever. It seemed like a kind of interesting satire-slash-experiment to make an account that was the ultimate [in] language out of context.
The account now has nearly 100,000 followers.
Yeah, it’s kind of overwhelming that interest has been as strong as it is.
What was the tipping point for that?
The tipping point was definitely Adrian Chen’s Gawker article that he published three years ago now. At that point, there were people that started following it organically, but I don’t even remember how many followers there were.
Who was the first follower?
Um, probably I followed it first? But then I stopped following it for a long time, from the A’s up to, like, the E’s.
It was too much. It was cluttering up my feed. It was boring. It was only after I found out that there were actually people that I know who were following it, and who were incorporating it into their daily Twitter routine, that I decided to start following again.
Did you follow the whole @Horse_ebooks reveal in the fall?
For sure. I have lots of feelings about @Horse_ebooks.
You’re not a performance artist who works at BuzzFeed, right?
No, I’m not.
There’s no art installation coming at the end of this?
Nope. I’m not going to try to sell you anything when I’m done.
Does anyone think that you personally tweet every word from the dictionary?
Yeah. The headline of Adrian Chen’s piece was “One Man’s Quest to Tweet Every Word in the English Language.” And there were clearly a lot of reporters who didn’t bother to read the rest of the article and see that it was an automated process. I take full responsibility for @everyword, but it’s not something that I do every day.
My boss got a call from a producer for Anderson Cooper 360, who wanted me to do an appearance or a phone interview or something. During the pre-interview process, the producer’s first question was, like, “So, how do you stay awake for so long?” [I said,] “That’s not actually what’s happening! It’s tweeting automatically. I don’t do anything.” I could sort of hear her deflate and realize, Oh, we wanted this crazy Internet story about this hermit bearded guy who is in a dark room sipping Red Bull all day, staying up to do this really unreasonable thing.
What do you do now as a job?
I just quit my full-time job as a back-end Web developer, which I’d been doing for a couple of years, working for startups and stuff like that. I quit that recently, and I’m trying to switch to doing full-time teaching and arts practice.
Do you know what the last tweet will be and when it will be sent out?
I do know what the last tweet will be. I’m not exactly sure when it will get sent out. There might be a Twitter outage between now and then, so I don’t want to make a promise to people and have them skip their brunch plans or whatever. But it’s probably going to be in the morning on Saturday.
Some people are afraid something really horrible is going to happen when @everyword terminates.
Do you have any insight into that?
There’s sort of this end-of-the-world thinking that happens with @everyword, which is really interesting to see. It’s happened not just concerning when @everyword reaches the end, but also when @everyword tweeted the word “s**t” there were a whole bunch of responses that were, like, “OK, that’s it, Twitter’s over, we’re done. Everything on the Internet that needed to be accomplished has now been accomplished.”
Anything that is in a sequence and is kind of grand in scale, where you’re in the middle of it but you can see the end, people have end-of-the-world thinking with those kinds of things. Once we reach this milestone, once all of this is exhausted, then what else is there to do? It’s kind of a funny joke to make. I hope there aren’t any actual end-of-the-world cults concerning @everyword.
Will your life still have meaning when @everyword is no longer tweeting?
Oh yeah. It’s a thing that I’m proud of, and I’m super excited that so many people have connected with it. But I have other Twitter bots that I run that are just as much fun.
What’s the best of them?
I would point people to @PowerVocabTweet. It’s sort of like a sequel to @everyword, except instead of tweeting every word in the English language, it makes up imaginary words and then associates them with randomly generated definitions.
Have you thought about tweeting every word in the English language backwards?
I’ve had a bunch of ideas. At some point in the near future, I’d like to run it again. Maybe find a better word list that is a bit more inclusive. When it was in the s’s or even later, that was when it was picked up on a viral scale. A lot of people have asked, “Can you run it from the beginning so we can experience all of the words from the beginning of the alphabet?”
So that’s another seven years, right?
Yes. Unless I add significantly more words or decide to change the rate at which it tweets.