Tag Archives: Twitter

In Defense of English: or, the Day I Sherlocked the Internet

When you teach English, you learn a great deal about the colorful palette of poetic language people resort to when expressing their ideas. In the seven-and-a-half years since I began teaching, I’ve learned, for instance, that Martin Luther King Jr. preached passive-aggressive resistance, that he and Malcolm X were assignated, that nuns live in a covenant, and that our continual depletion of the Earth’s resources is part of a viscus cycle of human destruction.

I’ve written in the past about the fact that these errors result from human laziness due to the reliance on spell-checker, autocorrect, and predictive text. All of the above words (with the exception of assignated) are Standard English words, so a spell-checker won’t register their incorrect usage within the context of a sentence in which they clearly don’t belong. The Urban Dictionary, however, does define assignate as follows: “To take off someone’s $3000 designer glasses, wipe your butt with them, and put them back on their face.” Ya know, because you were wondering. You’re welcome.

Over at You Knew What I Meant, a fellow English teacher posits that students might also be mishearing certain words, an opinion that, if more willing to give students the benefit of the doubt, is nonetheless entirely plausible. (If you call yourself a grammar geek, and you aren’t following this blog, why aren’t you? But I digress.) I know I’ve certainly misheard expressions over the years, and had I not bothered to check the spelling and pronunciation, I might never have been any the wiser. In the popular Christmas carol, “Here we Come a’Wassailing,” for instance, I could have sworn as a child that the lyric actually went “Here we come a’Waffling.” Wassailing. Waffling. Perfectly understandable. Sort of mistake anyone might make.

I don’t offer the above examples of carelessness as anecdotal evidence of my own self-righteous adherence to perfect grammar. On the contrary, just this past week, a friend of mine was kind enough to point out several hilariously ridiculous errors in my own work that, because we both recognized how an incorrect homonym can completely change the meaning of a sentence, proved both a lesson in proofreading and an entertaining diversion in my day. We’ve affectionately termed our typo-spotting game “Sherlocking,” after a scene in the BBC television series “Sherlock,” when the great detective takes the time to correct a criminal’s grammar before sending him to the gallows.

You are all charity and benevolence, Mr. Holmes.

It should come as no surprise, then, that my Friday morning was off to a snickering start when I read the following Tweet from the BBC:

While the actual article headline assured readers that Lee wasn’t “pressured” into releasing her second novel, the damage had already been done. Merriam-Webster defines pressurize as “to press (something) tightly into a container.” No one can ever erase the images my mind conjured of Lee being forced into an enormous pressure cooker. In my score-keeping, this ties for first place with the time that Kristen Stewart told a reporter that she’d “literally implode” if she couldn’t act. OK, now, I know that Bella Swan tends toward the melodramatic, but I find it hard to believe that not having one’s dream job would result in collapsing inward in a very sudden and violent way.

Last Sunday, I dared to Sherlock the writers of “The Big Bang Theory” on a post written in honor of International Women’s Day, discussing what makes the main female characters such amazing role models. I tried to restrain myself. Truly. You must know this. I did everything I could to keep my hands otherwise occupied. I played fetch with my dog. I ate a cookie. I sat on my thumbs until they lost all sensation. Nothing helped. I just had to point out that, given the subject matter of the article, describing Bernadette as “the dependent character who has her life in line” doesn’t quite carry the intended meaning. Did they mean independent? Dependable? Either possibility would make far more sense in the context of the sentence. The writers of the show have since expressed their undying gratitude to me with a pair of tickets to the next taping. Bazinga! No one ever actually responded to my tweet. I don’t expect to be thanked for doing my duty as I see fit, but I ask you, in my position, what would Sheldon Cooper have done?


If you spot any errors in this post, I give you leave to shamelessly Sherlock me. It is your duty as a devoted reader.

“The Impossible Will Take a Little While”: a Reflection on #StopAbleism2015 and Social Media Activism

#Ferguson; #ICan’tBreathe; #BringBackOurGirls; #YesAllWomen; if you’ve frequented social media at all in recent weeks, and in particular within the past year, any or all of the above hashtags will likely have flitted across your Twitter, Facebook, or Tumblr timeline at least once. From the protests surrounding the shootings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, to the kidnapping of Nigerian schoolgirls by Boko Haram, to the world-wide grief and outrage over the Charlie Hebdo attack, Twitter hashtags have, like much of the Internet, created a virtual global space in which people can unite to spread news and information, to encourage, to grieve, and to show solidarity. Yet one hashtag has, not surprisingly given recent international events, received far less attention, though it likely wouldn’t have garnered much even on a slow news day.

Like most of the social media-addicted world, I spent a part of my New Year’s Day 2015 scrolling through the myriad of Internet activism-related hashtags interspersed with tweets about well-intentioned New Year’s resolutions. As I prepared to slam the lid of my laptop shut and abandon Twitter for the pre-Internet delight of reading a book, I paused over a hashtag that I had previously never seen: #StopAbleism2015. Like many of the hashtags that have received media attention within the past year, #StopAbleism2015 has a focused mission to spread awareness about disability discrimination and how to end such discrimination. Tweets sent under this hashtag range from statistics about mental illness to stories of cab drivers refusing to pick up a passenger traveling with a service animal.

In“The Case for Social Media and Hashtag Activism, Sabina Khan-Ibarra writes that “Individuals with certain disabilities, caretakers, and those with young children can be involved with activism and not be limited by their inability to physically mobilize. This gives opportunities to highlight that which was previously unheard and unseen—making the voices we hear more diverse and a more true reflection of reality.” In simplest terms, people tweeting under the hashtag #StopAbleism2015 have used their stories to put an abstract concept into clear, and often heart-wrenchingly concrete language. According to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, ableism refers to discrimination against people with disabilities, but how do we identify patterns of ableist behavior in others (or even in our own actions) if we don’t know what it looks like? While I have all too often been on the receiving end of malicious, intentional discrimination because of my disability, I have found that, more often than not, ableism is born less of hatred than of ignorance. The commuter sitting beside me on the bus who notices my guidedog at my feet and asks, “What’s wrong with you?” is expressing, albeit tactlessly, curiosity about my disability and what my service animal does for me. (Side note: many service animal handlers consider it invasively rude to ask what their service animals do, not because they don’t have the desire to educate the public, but because very often disability results from any number of physically and emotionally painful experiences ranging from car accidents to cancer. So before you get too curious, consider how you’d feel discussing with a stranger at the bus stop what it was like to lose your vision because of a brain tumor.)Assuming that my fellow commuter has never before encountered someone with a service animal, in her curiosity about my dog and her uncertainty about how to broach the subject, she unwittingly addresses me with ableist language. To ask what is “wrong” with me implies that I am in some way flawed or defective, which carries greater implications about my ability to be a productive citizen: to perform labor, to live independently, to maintain healthy, fulfilling relationships. Technically and medically speaking, the only thing “wrong” about me is the fact that my sense of sight is limited to the ability to detect light and shadows, but there is nothing inherently wrong about me as a human being.

Many people with disabilities, myself included, can recite a litany of amusing stories about questions they’ve received from curious people, like the person who asked one of my friends if her guidedog helps her cook. Then there are the stories that reveal the harmful and often irreversible damage that ableism inflicts. Here are just a few examples of the stories that #StopAbleism2015 has motivated people to share:

All too often, in conversations about discrimination, disability seems like the music being piped through the speakers at the local coffee shop: just-discernable background noise. #StopAbleism2015 seems an attempt to amplify the voices of people with disabilities. The criticism that the trend has received stems from the notion that, as several people have argued to me, the hashtag isn’t about activism; it’s about raising awareness for basic human rights. Yet raising awareness to call for social or political change is at the heart of any form of activism. The objection is, paradoxically, ableist in its own way; it suggests that we cannot categorize #StopAbleism2015 as the beginning of a movement, because, simply put, the participants aren’t mobilizing; they are simply affirming the prevalence of ableism through statements that express anger, sadness, and frustration about the treatment we receive at the hands of society. Unfortunately, if you peruse the collection of #StopAbleism2015 hashtags, this negativity becomes quite evident. . Helen Keller once famously declared, “Self-pity is our worst enemy, and if we yield to it, we can never do anything wise in this world.” Our collective righteous indignation at the prevalence of ableism in society can only carry us so far, and yet, we must begin somewhere. As Khan-Ibarra points out, hashtag activism allows those who cannot “mobilize” to use their voices as vehicles of change.

As much as I insist that my disability doesn’t entirely define me, it nevertheless makes up an integral part of my being; since I lost my sight due to a genetic condition, it is imprinted on my body, written in my DNA as surely as the color of my hair or the shape of my face. It is a part of the story I tell every day, impacting the ways that I can (and cannot) use my body. Some of the stories that people have taken to Twitter to share under the #StopAbleism2015 hashtag are humorous; some are sad; some make me want to hurl things at the wall in anger and frustration; all are deeply personal, a testament to the fact that we are human, with a basic human right to be treated equally. In a world where people with disabilities encounter various degrees of challenges navigating their environments, the Internet is (increasingly, if not absolutely) a space that we can navigate with relative ease, so it should come as little surprise that the disabled community has embraced Twitter as a medium for raising our voices in this demand for equality.

Set against the backdrop of the hashtag activism that has taken the Web by storm, #StopAbleism2015 seems hardly a movement of any great magnitude, but it takes tremendous courage to share some of the stories that have been told, and those who choose to lend their voices to the conversation should be commended. Will #StopAbleism2015 have the power to raise employment rates of people with disabilities, or erase the Undue Hardship clause from the Americans with Disabilities Act? Maybe; maybe not, but to quote Paul Rogat Loeb in The Impossible Will Take a Little While, “Just pushing the stone in the right direction is cause for celebration.”

Note: for a more comprehensive background of hashtag activism, check out this blog post from The Washington Post

A Little Birdie Told Me: Academic Research and the Twittersphere

Amidst headlines about the ongoing violence in Syria, the 2012 presidential race, and people (myself included) griping about Facebook’s mandatory rollout of Timeline, I was fortunate to stumble upon this little gem in my Twitter feed: MLA Releases Guidelines for Citing a Tweet.
‘Great,’, I thought. ‘As if taking up arms against the persistence of plagiarism isn’t already challenging enough what with Wikipedia, Google, and the fact that the iPhone has shrunk the world of information to a pocket-sized piece of plastic’. Now we’ve got to contend with Twitter.

You would think that, having spent roughly half of my life becoming increasingly reliant on the Internet, that I’d be a bit less of a Luddite about this most recent acknowledgement of the extent to which internet technology has altered the way we conduct (and in turn cite) research. But the truth is, I needed a moment to pick my jaw up off the floor before I could actually process this information. Several cups of coffee later, with the gears of my brain grinding, I challenged myself to step back and evaluate the situation from a more technologically open-minded perspective. Let’s face it: I blog, I use Facebook, I tweet like a twit, and I’ll be much surprised if I am never called upon to address a question from a student about the correct method for citing a tweet. Thanks to the MLA, I now have a default response.

That being said, there remains the issue of what constitutes legitimate, authoritative sources, and the circumstances under which Twitter might be considered appropriate for academic research. Admittedly, I was hard-pressed to think of such scenarios; as a literature and writing teacher and a Victorian scholar, I’ve never encountered (at least not yet) such a scenario. However, I am aware that in recent years, scholars in my field, as well as fans, have taken to creating accounts on Twitter impersonating—for entertainment as well as edification—fictional characters and their creators, everyone from Wilkie Collins and the great Sherlock Holmes to Mark Darcy of Bridget Jones fame (though he hasn’t tweeted in months…not that I know this, because I don’t follow him or anything). To return to the point, if someone, whether a student or professional scholar, wanted to conduct research focusing on the use of social media such as Twitter for engaging with literature and encouraging the “iPhone generation” to read, this might be a scenario where citing a tweet might be academically appropriate.

To use another example, the course I taught last semester—Writing through Media—and the course I’m currently teaching—Advanced Argumentative Writing—both have a heavy emphasis on the usage of new media tools, including Twitter, as means through which to enrich our writing experiences and create new spaces for readers and writers to interact with one another. I’ve just assigned my Advanced Argumentative Writing students an essay addressing this very topic, and in a context where one is studying the trends of popular media, there might be cause for incorporating Twitter into the research and writing. In that case, the MLA has offered us a solution to a question for which, until now, teachers have had no standard, textbook response.

How do you feel about the acknowledgement of Twitter as potentially suitable for use in academic research? What situations can you think of in which such usage would be called for? How can teachers instruct students about how best to use Twitter as an academic tool? Is Twitter even an internet resource that can offer students legitimate, authoritative information, or should we teach students to treat Twitter as we instruct them to treat Wikipedia–a source of general (though not necessarily verifiable) information?

Raise Your Cup of Joe: Celebrating National Coffee Day!

Yet again, I have Twitter to thank for reminding me of the existence of arbitrary holidays: today, National Coffee Day!

As is probably glaringly obvious given my professional pursuits, coffee is my elixir—a daily blend of ritual and routine without which my physical and mental state would probably be more chaotic than it already is. I begin each day with it, rain or shine; during the work week, it’s the source of fuel that sets my gears in motion; on a Saturday morning, it’s the lazy luxury I linger over as I check e-mail, read a book, or just sit on my porch and drink in the details of the morning that all too often I find little time to appreciate in the workaday whirl. A friend once suggested to me during a year when I had difficulty deciding what my Lenten sacrifice would be, that I should give up coffee, to which I pointed out that spending 40 days in a comatose state would do little toward enabling me to experience the spiritual benefits of Lent. Besides, the purpose of Lent is penitence and spiritual growth; prompting my friends, family, coworkers, and students to contemplate murdering me because of my under-caffeinated crankiness would do little for their spiritual welfare, let alone mine. As my brother is fond of saying, Jesus suffered so we wouldn’t have to.

Coffee, at any rate, has filled every aspect of my life with its aroma; many a cup has kept me company during long, sleepless nights; it fills the cracks in my heart with comfort when I’m feeling low-spirited; some of my most memorable heart-to-hearts with my best friend have occurred over a cup of Joe; I saw immediate relationship potential in my most recent boyfriend during our first encounter at a local coffee shop (two years before we even considered dating). Any man who can defend Dunkin’ Donuts coffee over Starbucks with the fervor of political debate and logically argue his preference for mountain-grown coffee over coffee produced at lower altitudes is worthy of consideration as the potential father of my children.

Are you a coffee drinker? What role does coffee have in your daily routine? Is it a perky afternoon pick-me-up? A morning wake-up call? Do you drink so much of it that you’re in the market for an intravenous caffeine drip? Whatever, whenever, and however you take it: have yourself a cup of Joe and celebrate the full, flavorful, aromatic awesomeness that is coffee!