Technology is a constant source of new vocabulary – not just new words but new ways of using existing words. One I’ve noticed this year is ratio as a verb in internet slang, which I’ve bundled here with the more familiar take as a noun.
Ratio entered English in the 16thC as a noun borrowed from Latin, gaining its familiar modern sense decades later in a translation of Euclid. About a century ago – the OED’s first citation is from 1928 – ratio began life as a verb meaning ‘express as a ratio’ or similar. Here’s an example from Harold Smith’s book Aerial Photographs (1943):
Each print which departs from the average scale or shows any apparent tilt is rectified and ‘ratioed’, or corrected for scale, by means of a projection printer.
And now a new sense of ratio as a verb is emerging on Twitter. (If you’ve seen it elsewhere, let me know.)
A tweet can attract different kinds of response. You can reply to it, which means leaving a comment on it; retweet (RT) it, sharing it with your own followers; or ‘like’ it, equivalent to Facebook likes and formerly called favourites.* You can also ‘quote retweet’ it, but we’ll ignore that here.
Many tweets get little engagement, fading fast into obscurity. Others, especially from people or organisations with a large following, see a lot of activity – they may be replied to hundreds of times and RTed and liked thousands of times. And then there are tweets that attract a lot of replies but relatively few RTs and likes.
This is the ratio: replies versus RTs and likes. If the replies are critical, you’re getting ratioed. It’s commonly used in passive constructions: a tweet or tweeter is ratioed or gets ratioed.
Let’s look at an example, selected because it’s the most recent major one I saw on Twitter. It’s from the @marieclaire account, which has 2.3 million followers. Of its last 100 or so tweets, most get 0–10 RTs and 0–30 likes; a few outliers exceed those figures.
And then there’s this tweet:
At the time of writing, the tweet had 221 retweets, 498 likes, but 5.7 thousand replies, generally critical. Some of the replies – telling Marie Claire that Swift owes them nothing, or that her politics are her own business unless she decides otherwise – are RTed far more than the original. A later @marieclaire tweet sharing the same link got ratioed on a smaller scale: 10 retweets, 42 likes, 198 replies and counting.
In another instance, about a week ago, a controversial tweet about Danica Roem by a religious speaker was heavily ratioed (528 RTs, 1.6k likes, 10k replies); a flavour of the reaction noting this can be found by searching Twitter for the tweeter’s name + ratio and derivatives.
Here are a few more examples of the new usage. You can see the ratios below the tweets being referred to:
Spelling-wise I favour ratioed, but the frequency of ratio’d suggests antipathy to or uncertainty about the first inflection’s vowel string, reflected too in the relative frequency of grocer’s apostrophes in plurals ending in vowels (tomato’s, potato’s). Ratioing lacks an alternative and doesn’t seem problematic.
BuzzFeed, unusual among news sources, has used the word in a headline. But its readers are more likely to be familiar with internet memes and lingo. It opted for ratio’d over ratioed:
Sometimes the verb is intensified, for example ratio’d/ratioed into oblivion, another dimension, the stratosphere, orbit, the ether, the sun, the asteroid belt, next Wednesday, the Earth’s core, the abyss, hell, the ground, dust, a foxhole, a corncob, and so on. Themes recur, as you can see.
This last one, pleasingly, also verbs actually.
The popularity of Twitter as a platform for public discussion means controversies can spread quickly – and so can terminology that describes how they play out. Ratio as a verb is currently used a few dozen times a day on Twitter, judging by this basic search, but it may grow. Visit that link for a fuller flavour of the usage.
A couple of exceptions are worth noting. A reply-heavy ratio on a tweet doesn’t mean you’re getting ratioed. If you ask Twitter what book to read, or where to eat in London, you’ll get far more replies than RTs or likes, but that’s no indication of the quality of the tweet. Nor does getting ratioed-ratioed always mean your take is bad – I’ve seen tweets ratioed because they were misunderstood or taken out of context.
Take as a verb has many senses and subsenses; as a noun it has far fewer. One modern sense, yet to appear in many dictionaries, has take meaning a reaction to, opinion on, or interpretation of something, often a topical story. As in, ‘What’s your take on this?’ The OED dates the usage to 1977.
The derived phrase hot take often has negative connotations, or is used ironically to frame a banal observation on something trivial. So you best hope your hot take doesn’t get ratioed. What the lower limit of that ratio is, mathematically, no one can say for sure. But as internet slang it’s a productive, efficient bit of lexical engineering.
* A like doesn’t imply approval – it may just serve as a bookmark or some other function. Nor does a retweet, though it’s more likely to.