data journalism

Whatever Happened to Pooping Bottles?

Photo: Brian Feldman

Think back to 2012. What do you remember? The Avengers smashes box-office records. Barack Obama battles Mitt Romney to retain control of the Oval Office. Taylor Swift releases Red. Scientists announce the discovery of the Higgs boson. Kim Jong-un becomes the Supreme Leader of North Korea. The Spice Girls reunite at the London Olympics. More than 1,000 people tweet the phrase “pooping bottles.” Macklemore releases “Thrift Shop.” Argo. Hurricane Sandy. Elizabeth Warren is elected to the Senate. Lebron James wins his first NBA championship with the Miami Heat. The New York Giants win the Super Bowl. You feel the youngest you’ll ever be and the oldest you’ve ever been. Opportunity is in front of you; all you must do is reach out — and grab it. On Twitter, so many people write the phrase “pooping bottles” and it is honestly so funny.

To me, “pooping bottles” remains in the upper tier of infamous internet typos, alongside “HODL,” “babby,” “bone apple tea,” “hamberders,” and “the smell of my bf’s colon 😍.” What was nice about “pooping bottles” is that for a time, you could search Twitter and come up with dozens of instances, people defecating when they should be celebrating. It was funny. And then: It stopped. It seems like hardly anyone poops bottles anymore. What happened?

If you plug the phrase “popping bottles” into Google Trends, the company’s tool for viewing the relative popularity of search queries over time, you’ll see two spikes. One occurs at the end of 2007, and the second occurs at the end of 2010. This was when bottle-popping fever took over the country. The 2007 spike, it seems, was related to the release of “Pop Bottles,” the lead single off Birdman’s album, 5 * Stunna, which featured Lil Wayne (“Okay we popping champagne like we won the championship game”). In late November 2010, Far East Movement’s “Like a G6” peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. It was next to impossible to turn on Top 40 radio without hearing “Popping bottles in the ice / Like a blizzard.” In early December, T.I. released his song “Popping Bottles,” featuring Drake.

To find out where “pooping bottles” went, I scraped all 3,470 tweets that contained the phrase “pooping bottles” (I compiled this data in mid-July 2019, so stats for 2019 are partial) and built a spreadsheet of relevant metadata, including time stamps of when they were posted to Twitter. The oldest remaining tweet containing the phrase came just after midnight on April 19, 2009. “element right now pooping bottles, lil hood fro Ray J in the building,” @KP_52 writes.

Here are some “pooping bottles” tweets with the most engagement.

Grace Spelman, a friend whose “pooping bottles” tweet was the sixth-most-faved in the data set, said, “Speak to my lawyer” when reached for comment.

According to my data, the most popular year for pooping bottles was 2012, when more than 1,000 tweets made the fatal typo. That’s more than double the number from 2011, while 2013 saw a nearly 25 percent drop-off in pooping bottle tweets.

If you break the trend down even more granularly, by month, you’ll find that “pooping bottles” peaked at the end of 2012. Its most popular months were November (117 mentions) and December (119), when roughly four times a day, someone was pooping bottles. Tweets from the beginning portion of this peak sometimes mention Barack Obama, who was presumably pooping bottles to celebrate his reelection.

From that peak in 2012, “pooping bottles” appears less and less frequently. In December 2013 and 2015, the phrase spikes again, particularly in the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve when the Champagne flows freely. There’s also a small spike in July of 2014, when BuzzFeed covered the typo and a bunch of bots repeated the headline.

While examining obvious concentration of “pooping bottles” tweets around 2012, I discovered that the tweets were spread pretty evenly across the week and around the clock. I isolated November and December 2012, the months that represented peak bottle-pooping, and found that the typo occurs pretty regularly around the clock, with a slight dip between 4 a.m. and noon (ET). In fact, in late 2012, “pooping bottles” tweets occurred twice as frequently between midnight and 4 a.m., than between 4 and 8 in the morning. Surprisingly, in this peak period, the day of the week featuring the most typos was Monday, rather than weekend nights. The least popular days for pooping bottles were Tuesday and Sunday, understandable given that those are down days.

Clearer trends become apparent as we zoom out and examine the entire data set. “Pooping bottles” tweets are a little more likely to occur on a Friday or Saturday — 34.8 percent of typos occurred on these two days. Meanwhile, the full data set shows that pooping bottle tweets across the date range were more likely to occur, understandably, between 8 p.m. and 4 a.m. (ET) — a 44.7 percent chance. These are, understandably, the hours in which someone is most likely to pop bottles.

But how did these posts make their way to Twitter? That might help us further examine the trends, and luckily, Twitter’s API allowed me to pull the names of every client used to post a “pooping bottles” tweet.

The most popular client was “Twitter for iPhone,” responsible for a whopping 1,116 tweets (given the iPhone’s position as a luxury status symbol, its dominance makes sense among the “poop bottles” crowd). It was followed by the “Twitter Web Client” (692 tweets) and “Twitter for Android” (505 tweets). Altogether, these three first-party options cover 2,313 of the 3,470 tweets I scraped, or 67 percent.

So why did the “pooping bottles” tweets disappear? That first-party mobile clients alone cover nearly half of the errors also leads me to theorize that many of the “pooping bottles” errors were caused by autocorrect, which has presumably gotten a lot smarter over the past decade and thus led to a decline in the rate of error. Many of the 90-plus clients listed in the data were mobile (it is impossible for me to determine what type of browser “Twitter Web Client” tweets originated from).

To test this hypothesis, I pulled the names of the ten-most-popular mobile clients used by “pooping bottles” and calculated their percentage relative to the total number of typo tweets each year. What I found was … confusing. By the time the typo peaked in 2012, mobile posting represented 62 percent of that year’s tweets. The percentage of mobile tweets continued to rise until it now constitutes pretty much all “pooping bottles” tweets. So the overall number of error tweets has decreased. But, if autocorrect is getting better, and mobile now encompasses nearly all of the errors, how are the errors still happening? Maybe autocorrect has been trained inadequately. Maybe people think it’s funny. Maybe a cultish group of fanatics are actually pooping bottles. A mystery …

Technological changes may account for some of this, but in reality, the typo’s decline is because the public’s fascination with “popping bottles” itself is in decline. This n-gram from the lyrics database Genius shows that references to “popping bottles” in songs peaked at roughly the same time, 2011 and 2012, that “pooping bottles” peaked on Twitter (no rapper has yet to mention pooping bottles on a track, unfortunately). Put simply, “popping bottles” has been superseded by similar but not identical activities like going to “the turn up function,” as Macklemore once put it.

Farewell, “pooping bottles” typo. You burned fast and bright and very funny.

Whatever Happened to Pooping Bottles?