The Final Word


On Language


Albert Goodwin, Apocalypse, 1902.

Late in 2007, a poet and programmer named Adam Parrish started @everyword, a Twitter account dedicated to tweeting all the words in English. The very first tweet, from 6:53 A.M. on September 2, 2007, seems to have been blasphemous, but after that came a, and things settled into a familiar alphabetical rhythm.

In the days of the early letters, we felt footloose and fancy-free. It seemed, for a while, that the dictionary and its roughly 109,000 entries would last us for the rest of our natural lives. Years passed. Words came and went at a stately pace. The most retweeted among them were sex and weed, those poles of the human condition.

But things took on a sudden urgency earlier this year when x, y, and z came around. None of us felt young anymore—we were living in the twilight of the alphabet, suddenly, acutely aware of our own mortality. @everyword, once a fixture of the Twittersphere, was soon to be snuffed out by Fate, as we all must be. As of this writing, zoril, zounds, and zoysia have just been tweeted, each one a harbinger of doom. The last word is expected to go up this weekend, if not later today. (One never knows exactly when Death’s cold, tenebrous hand will descend upon one’s shoulder.)

In an interview earlier this week, Parrish told The Guardian,

Whimsy is something that I’m very interested in evoking in people. I don’t like the concept of personalization on the web. When I get on the Internet it’s because I want to have a shared experience. I want to see what other people see. The Internet is a way to find out what life is like for other people. One of the goals of the stuff I make is to produce these experiences, and not sell you something, which is what a lot of the Internet is about these days.

Excellent points, but as the end beckons, whimsy is on the wane. (Or not—it was just tweeted a month ago.) Parrish never discussed why he chose to begin his series with blasphemous, but it augurs ill for us, now that we’re in the end-times. Has he been courting Satan with his word spells? Twitter’s eschatologists are predicting the apocalypse. What will happen when the final word goes up? Is there life after zed—or, more accurately, after zyxt?