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Things are a bit grim at Twitter these days. Growth has stalled and there’s a general sense that if it doesn’t un-stall pretty quickly, the story will not have a happy ending. As is its wont, Twitter management has responded to the crisis by adding meaningless features that are either pointless or annoying and which no one asked for in the first place (longer direct messages, polls, hearts instead of stars, etc). None of these moves even begins to address what I see as the real reason user numbers have peaked, which is this: when you join Twitter, you start with zero followers. Okay, you might pick up a few relatives right away and there are those weirdos who follow anyone who follows them but, basically, you’re talking to yourself. Followers show up eventually, if you persist, but it takes time and patience. No one has those, least of all on the Internet, where there are distracting cat GIFs and, I’m told, pictures of bottoms freely available.

When I joined Twitter six years ago I tried to use the handle @damienowens but it had already been nabbed by a namesake. That guy is pretty typical of the people Twitter is losing, I bet. He signed up, tweeted once — a refreshingly blunt ‘new’ — then realised there was no one listening. And off he fucked, never to return.

'Hello? Is there anyone- ...? Hello?'

‘Hello? Is there anyone- …? Hello?’

What Twitter needs, I think, is a sort of buddy system. The moment you sign up, boom, you’ve got (say) one hundred followers. A broad mix. People from your area and people from the other side of the world. People who share your passion for Bojack Horseman and people who have never heard of Bojack Horseman. It would be totally voluntary, of course. Existing users would only find themselves suddenly following strangers if they explicitly opted in, and they’d be free to immediately unfollow if said stranger turned out to be racist or a men’s rights activist or someone who thinks Katie Hopkins ‘tells it like it is’.

Twitter’s problem isn’t that no one tries it. It’s that people try it, tweet once or twice, feel stupid, and leave. That’s what needs to be fixed. Give newbies an automatic audience. If they still leave, it was never going to work out anyway.

Listen to this: I just read that William Shakespeare invented over 1700 words. 1700! And I’m not talking about ‘nonny’. Among the examples on the list I saw were everyday favourites like ‘champion’, ‘amazement’, ‘lonely’, ‘submerge’, ‘courtship’, ‘excitement’, ‘gossip’, ‘puking’, ‘hint’, ‘eyeball’, ‘accused’, ‘tranquil’ and ‘elbow’. How did that work then? ‘Thou knowst that bit of thy arm where the bend is? Methinks I shall call it an “elbow”. Laugh not – this time next year, thou shalt all be at it.’ The truth is that we have always had more things than words for things. Douglas Adams and John Lloyd spotted this some years ago and bridged a few of the gaps with their book The Meaning of Liff. According to them, a ‘quenby’ is a spot of dirt on a window which you scrub for ten minutes before realising that it’s on the other side of the glass. To ‘smarden’ is to smile through your teeth at a story you’ve heard already. A ‘winkley’ is a lost object that turns up as soon as you buy a replacement. An ‘aith’ is the solitary bristle that pokes out the side of a cheap paintbrush. This is all good stuff, and I have been prompted to come up with a coinage of my own. It took several hours but I got there in the end. Ahem: ‘Glossaninny (n.) One who gets all excited about the idea of inventing words only to find out that he’s no good at it himself.’

Most of the following were written ages ago as part of a Twitter hashtag game (if you don’t know what that is, just forget I said it). If you want to see this sort of thing done with much greater skill on a daily basis, follow @DrSamuelJohnson.

  • Prithee, rest here awhile, and allow me to consult with Mr Google in your stead.
  • Wherefore the clamour regarding Mr Jobs’ latest novelty? ‘Tis but its elder sister clad in more voluminous skirts.
  • The later dramas of Mr Lucas are works of folly and can only serve to blacken the reputation of their forebears.
  • I grow tired of Mr Psy’s musical travesty. Whatever small amusements it once offered have long since vanished into the ether.
  • Does some semblance of automaton dwell within thee? Prove thyself fully human by the unravelling of these cyphers.
  • Sir, your pamphlet has confounded me by virtue of its sheer dimensions; hence, I have not considered it in full.
  • Many men shall pass judgment on the afore-going treatise, but mine own is the inaugural appraisal.
  • Your enjoyment of the entertainment in question leaves me in no doubt, sir, that you are wont to lie with men. I bid you good day.

I have of late been amusing myself in the production of taglines for movies that never were, and hopefully never will be. Examples:

  • For the first clown on the moon, life is no joke.
  • Part shark. Part spider. All cop.
  • He said he would love her forever. He was drunk.
  • They picked the wrong day to give Detective McAlpine a slightly disappointing haircut.
  • Julie went back in time to kill Hitler. She didn’t know she would fall in love …
  • Two priests. Two vampires. One crazy game of bridge.
  • Hmmm – revenge is a DISH!
  • Justice has a new pair of glasses.
  • Whatever you do, don’t pull his finger.
  • They messed with the right guy. No, wait – wrong. The wrong guy.
  • Grandpa got her nose. Now she’s taking his soul.

The other day I found myself, for reasons that are too boring to recount, having to do some long division the old fashioned way, with pen and paper and brain. Long story short: I couldn’t. It was amusing at first, a brief stumble soon to be forgotten. Then I tried again. This goes into that, and you put the new number down there and then … no, wait. You put it on top and then you add the … no, that’s not it either. Oh, I see, you put a nought where … I was at it for fifteen minutes, eyeing each new answer with increasing suspicion, before I was forced to give up and wait until I got to my phone. This episode is clearly a damning indictment of something, and while I would like to think that the something is the Department of Education or possibly the entire field of mathematics, I suspect that it’s me. If I’m going to forget anything, why can’t it be the names of eighties one hit wonders? But oh, no. It’s the useful stuff that’s seeping away. What’ll be next to go? Multiplication? Subtraction? Please God, not addition. The worst part is that my relationship with my phone has been ruined. Cocky little bugger. So smug in its plastic overcoat. ‘Oooh, look at me, I can do long division.’ Huh. I bet it wouldn’t know Cutting Crew or Spagna if they walked up and punched it in the Home button.

Our house is number 13 in our street. 13 – the so-called ‘unlucky’ number. It’s never caused me a moment’s thought. You know why? It’s because I’m not fucking stupid, and you have to be fucking stupid to be afraid of a number. It’s nothing to do with being old-fashioned or folksy. It’s not about sensitivity or world-view. It’s about ability to process information and draw reasonable conclusions. I bring this up now because Ireland’s Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan, announced today that there will be a change to vehicle registration plates in 2013. For those who don’t know, Irish plates take the format ‘Year–County of registration–Number of registration’. So the eight hundred and fifty-third car registered in County Sligo in 2013 should have a plate saying ’13–SO–853′. But it won’t. Under pressure from the motor industry, Noonan has decreed that cars registered in the first half of the year will have plates saying 131 instead of 13. Cars registered in the second half will have 132. No-one will have to have an unlucky number on their car.

‘Psychics’ on TV. A call to prayer before the evening news. Avoiding unlucky numbers. Giving billions to banks that don’t exist. You can draw a straight line.

Here are my top ten tips for aspiring writers:

  • Set realistic writing goals like ‘I won’t cry today’.
  • Your screenplay needs to have at least three characters who say ‘Let’s get out of here!’ at least twice each.
  • It’s not a real romantic comedy if it doesn’t have a guy running through an airport at the end.
  • It’s pretentious to subtitle your book ‘A Novel’ unless it’s called ‘How Do You Pronounce “A Novel”?’, in which case it’s hilarious.
  • Kill every adjective you can find. Adverbs too. Use nouns sparingly. Absolutely no verbs.
  • It doesn’t matter where or when you write, provided it’s before noon and in front of a north-facing window.
  • Always draw your own book covers – and don’t scrimp on the crayons. Get the very best you can afford.
  • Suffering from writer’s block? Just quit forever. Who needs the grief?
  • Some writers like to plan their story meticulously, others like to wing it. Both approaches are wrong.
  • You have to grab the reader’s attention, so always start with an explosion. If the first word in your novel or screenplay isn’t ‘KA-BOOM!’, you’re screwed.

Hands up everyone who’s ever been chased by an angry mob. Hmmm. Quite a few of you. OK then, hands up everyone who’s ever been chased by an angry mob who believe that you’re the spawn of Satan come to do battle with Jesus in an apocalyptic battle for the very Earth itself. Yeah, I thought so. That particular privilege was reserved for us Damiens in the early nineteen-eighties when one or other of the Omen films was on TV every Saturday night. You will doubtless recall the original, in which Gregory Peck took a very long time to accept that his adopted son’s biological parents were not poor unfortunates who couldn’t, for whatever reason, raise a child, but rather the Prince of Low Lighting himself and some trollop of a jackal he met in a nightclub. In fairness to Gregory, he eventually realised his mistake and went to the kitchen drawer for the Seven Daggers of Meggido. When push came to stab, however, he was unable to do the necessary and before very long there was a sequel. Damien: Omen II, they called it. Oh-oh, I thought. Sure enough, someone at my school noticed that by merely inverting the M in omen, you could make the word Owen. And what did those Roman numerals represent if not the number 2, which is nothing more than a backwards letter S, squashed a bit? The evidence was overwhelming. The antichrist was alive and well and sitting not ten feet away with an E.T. flask and a Wagon Wheel. Cue chase music and a lunchtime spent running eight feet in front of the aforementioned angry mob. It wasn’t so bad, really. Once they’d cornered me and established, with some violence, that my scalp was free of little sixes, they lost interest quickly and permanently. I was one of the lucky ones. Some of my classmates had even more unfortunate names and endured sheer hell throughout their entire primary school careers. Poor old Gareth Vader … I wonder where he is now.

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