Roasted, Toasted, and Burned: Studying Wendy’s Twitter Account

I know that people research almost anything. Years ago, when I was on a university committee to evaluate applications for sabbaticals and internal research grants, I was surprised and delighted at the variety of things our faculty were studying. Your sabbatical has to coincide with the migration patterns of Central American spiders? Sure, no problem. (Yes, we funded that one and it was wonderful.) But even so, sometimes things still surprise me. Recently I read a research study from the University of Łódź, Poland, examining the nature of humor in Wendy’s Twitter account. Since humor is so often associated with creativity, I had to read on.

For those of you who may not follow Wendy’s (yes, the hamburger chain) on Twitter, you need to know that it has a reputation for wit and a large Twitter following. In particular, Wendy’s is known for “roasting,” defined in the article as “ritual jocular insults produced in the roastee’s honour for the sake of joint amusement.” Wendy’s is a particularly active player in Annual Roast Day on Twitter, enticing followers to request they be roasted. Here’s an example.

So, you may wonder, what’s to research? Dynel (2020) investigated the nature of Wendy’s Tweets to discern whether they were or weren’t not actual roasts, concluding in fact, that many of the Tweets were actually other forms of creative humor. The abstract concludes:

A large proportion of Wendy’s tweets, characterized by creativity, should be seen as cases of witty retorts to users’ various challenging tweets or teasing about other companies, a different type of humorous ritual. Still other posts qualify as genuinely aggressive jibes that disparage Wendy’s competition. These jibes, as well as some of the retorts, are meant to communicate truthful critical meanings, rather than being merely playful tweets carried out in a humorous frame (the hallmark of roasting).

The variety of types of responses, rather than a steady diet of roasting, claims Dynel, contributes to the account’s popularity.

Aside from being generally fascinated by the notion of a detailed analysis of a Twitter stream, it occurred to me that such an analysis could be a fascinating literacy analysis or critical thinking exercise for secondary students—particularly at the end of the pandemic school year when maintaining attention is a challenge. Imagine the thinking required to carefully define what constitutes a playful roast, an aggressive jibe, or a creative retort. It could be fascinating to have students analyze a series of Tweets from a company or public figure and justify their classification of the Tweets into these or other categories. You likely will have to limit options to those using school-appropriate language, but that should still leave many options. I’d love to hear what they find!

Dynel, M. (2020). On being roasted, toasted, and burned: (Meta)pragmatics of Wendy’s Twitter humor. Journal of Pragmatics, 166, 1-14. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pragma.2020.05.008

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