I read a May 18, 2024 blog post titled Streaming Touhou Emblem over on Yukinu Blog. It is a fun post and I recommend reading it, but my inquiry will be limited to the opening sentence and a footnote. I say “inquiry” loosely since, just to avoid any misunderstandings, I submit for the record that this article is, beginning with its headline, intentionally specious in nature.

Yukinu led the blog with the following sentence:

I’ll be streaming Touhou Emblem on Tw*tch.


“Tw*tch” obviously refers to Twitch, an Amazon-owned platform that I understand to be designed primarily for live-streaming. I say understand because I have never actually watched – much less streamed – anything on Twitch. But I think my second-hand understanding is sufficiently over the target for our present purposes. When I first read the article, I made note of the fact that Yukinu replaced one letter in Twitch with an asterisk. I have seen bloggers do this before – most often with Google and former Twitter – but I never thought about the reason. Perhaps the bloggers thought that we were all so on top of the lingo that no explanation was necessary. Fortunately, Yukinu made no such assumption, instead explaining “Tw*tch” in a detailed footnote:

You may be wondering, why their is a * character blocking out parts of words in some of my posts. I use character substitution as a Turing Test for crawlers; A human can easily fill in the blank, but a machine will struggle with it. Search engine analyzers may struggle with the substitution and decide to discard the token or incorrectly tokenize it. Randomizing the substitution will, in turn, fudge the TF-IDF score. Simply put, this post will be harder to find in a corpus when searching for the substitution, thus providing some balance in the grand scheme of web search.


It is as if Yukinu read my mind. This makes sense and not only helps readers understand the phenomenon, but offers an understanding of why some internet writers may consider adopting it into their own work. When I saw “Tw*tch” – I immediately understood that I was supposed to replace the asterisk with an i. Yukinu says that some machines will, at a minimum, struggle to make sense of the asterisk-for-i swap. The ability of machines to make sense of letter replacements is beyond my competence, so I defer to Yukinu’s expertise on that matter.

With that explanation aside, let us move on to the topic foreshadowed by this headline: How, or why, Twitter became X. On March 21, 2024, I published an article titled On Twitter’s (Now X’s) Re-Branding. That post was inspired by my idea to write an article making fun of the Mayor of New York City for describing the city he governs as the “Port-Au-Prince of America” – notwithstanding the fact that I published the Twitter-X branding post first (I am not sure why I published the Twitter-X post before the Port-Au-Prince article when the latter inspired the former, but this is not about my March 2024 scheduling decisions).

My Twitter-X article examined the reasons for changing the name of the social media platform that has consistently, since its inception, raised the level of American discourse. Now just to make sure no one thinks I was being serious – I do not think that X or Twitter has raised the level of American discourse. It has done quite the opposite. But it has contributed by giving legacy elites a platform to publicly beclown themselves without the benefit of editors – so that is a sort of contribution to the betterment of society.

I opined that I understood why X El-Presidente Elon Musk set out to blow up the brand of the social media platform he had spent the multi-year annual GDP of a small country to purchase and replace it with an entirely new brand. To be sure, one reason is that he has an fascination with the the letter X. But another reason is, as he has explained, that he wants X to be an everything app. I opined in my Twitter-X re-branding article that the only way that people could, in theory, accept this new project would be if it was not unduly burdened by the legacy of its distinctly more quaint predecessor. Now none of this is to say that I think this will work. While I largely think nuking legacy Twitter was and is a good thing, I shudder at the idea of X being an everything app and, granting its efforts to re-brand, I think X will forever be more saddled with the Twitter legacy than Mr. Musk and his executive team would like.

But what if I told you that my March 2024 take was all wrong? What if I discovered the real reason for Twitter becoming X.

I have seen people replace letters in Twitter with asterisks or other symbols in the same way Yukinu replaced the i in Twitch. Many Mastodon users have a habit of calling “Twitter” “Birdsite” (sparing no thought for a site actually called Birdsite). I am not sure if the “Birdsite” thing is still a thing post-X because I used Mastodon’s robust filtering functionality to filter posts including the term along with any posts about Mr. Musk (and his myriad nicknames) and anything that comes too close to furries. I always thought the Twitter nicknames on Mastodon were too cute by three-quarters (I will not entertain the possibility that my use of too cute by three-quarters is too cute by a half). Moreover, why drag the birds into former Twitter more than they already were?

(Serious aside: I will submit that one reason I use Mastodon, not to mention other “X alternatives” such as Pixelfed, Minds, Bluesky, and NOSTR, is because are all places to post articles and thoughts, usually articles in my case, that are not X. If I want to read about X, I can go do so on X or by looking for interesting articles or blog posts. That is one reason, albeit not the only reason, I filter X commentary on Mastodon. In order for there to be a true X alternative, it should offer something unique in and of itself in its design without relying on references to that which it seeks to distinguish itself from.)

But I digress.

It is entirely reasonable to believe that this was Mr. Musk’s foremost concern when he threw down 43 billion dollars to purchase Twitter: “We must do something about these people replacing letters in Twitter with asterisks.” I acknowledge that my use of “reasonable” here is doing some Olympic-level power-lifting.

So Mr. Musk fixed the problem by making the name of Twitter one letter: X. What happens if you replace X with an asterisk to confound the machines? All you have is an asterisk, right? Humans can replace an asterisk with an i in Twitch or a o with an 0 in Google, but in the case of X all you would have as an asterisk. Now, imagine if people tried this and, as a result, readers began associating asterisks with X. Then Mr. Musk would have effectively taken ownership of the asterisk for no additional cost.

43 billion dollars for Twitter was probably not the best use of money from a fiscal standpoint (granting I cannot point to any expertise of mine to authoritatively tell the richest man on Earth how to light his money on fire). But 43 billion dollars for Twitter and the asterisk? That is a great investment.

(Asterisks are cool.)

Moreover, take the “birdsite” thing. What can the Fediverse people do now? Call it X-site? Given Mr. Musk’s refined, mature sense of humor, I think he would approve of this change.

Checkmate, fedis (and feds).

I thought that my original take on the Twitter-to-X re-branding was sound, but the scales fell from my eyes after reading Yukinu’s concise and detailed explanation for replacing letters in big tech brand names. I now see the real reason Mr. Musk went from Twitter to X. Everything app is simply code for conquering the asterisk and, after conquering the asterisk, conquering all the symbols and punctuation. Non-English punctuation will not be safe – those reverse question and exclamation marks in Spanish will soon be official property of Elon Musk.

(I would type something clever in Spanish but I am best off sticking with English.)

Come to think of it, maybe this is why legacy Twitter fans, legacy media figures, and celebrities refuse to affirm former Twitter’s new identity as X. See, before I thought calling X Twitter or always attaching the “formerly known as Twitter” was a way to protest the imperium of Elon Musk over a once beloved microposting platform. For some, perhaps it was a way of wailing into the abyss after their former Twitter power-broker friends were separated from their former employment. But I was too simpleminded, their concerns are loftier: They are the guardians of the asterisk (and other punctuation pursuant to the law of slippery slopes).

(Serious aside: I have used the “formerly known as Twitter” formulation on a few occasions – but I did that because I suspected that many potential readers were not following every development at X, not because I personally have strong feelings about what the platform – which is mostly filled with bad content – is called this week.)

I conclude by again noting that most of this article is a joke. My hat tip to Yukinu for carefully explaining why bloggers replace letters in tech brand names is genuine. My pot about Twitter/X hosting subpar content, Mr. Musk’s sense of humor, and excessive X hatred are also largely genuine. (Mr. Musk should raise the level of his comedic interests – has he considered studying anime hair color?) I stand by my March 2024 post on the Twitter-to-X re-branding regarding my actual analysis of the situation.