Twetiquette Cops (and @johncusack) in NYT


The New York Times' John Metcalfe has a very funny story out today on self-appointed grammar and spelling nazis on Twitter: anal-retentive, fail-wailing buzzkills who troll fellow users (particularly high-profile ones) for typos and such. Boing Boing's esteemed guestblogger John Cusack starts off the piece, and I was also interviewed.

Cusack, it should be said, deserves real praise for keeping it real. He comes off in the piece as he does in person: self-deprecating humor, and just a cool, down-to-earth dude. So many stars of his stature farm out their tweets and Facebook interactions to assistants, publicists, PR handlers. Not him. As my Boing Boing colleagues know, I'm the biggest copyediting nitpicker obsessive in the world, but I really respect him for approaching the new experience of Twitter with sincerity, authenticity, and a desire to understand the medium by using it himself (and, fine, smashing a few cups in the china shop along the way). Bruteforce it, baby. Snip:

JOHN CUSACK tweets with his iPhone and, much like the characters he plays, his style is fast and loose. "I'm pretty new to it, and if there's a spell check on an iPhone, I can't find it," he said by telephone. "So I basically get in the general ballpark and tweet it."

Consequently, Mr. Cusack has birthed strange words like "breakfasy" and "hippocrite" and has given a more literary title to his new movie: "Hot Tub Tome Machine."

Most of his followers ignore the gaffes. But a vocal minority abuse him about it nonstop, telling the star that as much as they liked "The Sure Thing," his grammar and spelling sure stink. "If you're going to be political, maybe learn how to spell Pakistan, and all words in general," wrote one supposed fan.

"The vitriol was so intense that at first I didn't think they were serious," Mr. Cusack said. "Because, like, who would care?"

They do. A small but vocal subculture has emerged on Twitter of grammar and taste vigilantes who spend their time policing other people's tweets -- celebrities and nobodies alike. These are people who build their own algorithms to sniff out Twitter messages that are distasteful to them -- tweets with typos or flawed grammar, or written in ALLCAPS -- and then send scolding notes to the offenders. They see themselves as the guardians of an emerging behavior code: Twetiquette.

On the Twitter Patrol (New York Times)

(PHOTO: "Twitter Bird," a CC-licensed photo from the Flickr stream of tashmahal. This dog is not a Twitter cop, I just didn't want to reward bad human behavior by reblogging the photos of Twitter cops featured in the article.)


  1. Weird, the iPhone auto-correct is on by default, and wouldn’t let words like hippocrite or breakfasy pass.

    Now that I think about it, I don’t think you can even turn the auto-correct off on an iPhone. Can you?

    I think the iPhone story is a ruse!

  2. I have no interest in entering the world of twitter or any social networking world, and sure, anal nerds are annoying as all hell, but I do agree with the fan who told him how to learn the correct spelling of “Pakistan”. Tht hs nthng t d wth tqtt nd vrythng t d wth sndng lk mrn. Snc lbrls lv t lgh t th Tbggrs’ pr spllng v thr prtst sgns, Xn’s pst s mr hypcrsy thn nythng.

  3. I’m guilty of it. I can’t STAND (irony, I know) when folks type in all caps. It should be used for accentuation, not for standard typing. As for grammar, I refuse to use TXT in my texts! If you’re too lazy to use your vowels, I’m too lazy to attempt to read it!


  5. There’s a certain hubris in condensing one’s thoughts down to 140 characters and being unable to get even those right.

  6. That dog is Mr Charles Bird (@charliebird), Director, International Markets and Business Development for

    On the Cusack non-story – it wasn’t his spelling or grammar that got me to eventually unfollow him, it was his inability to articulate or to tweet anything worth reading. Sorry, Xeni, we obviously have different definitions of “down to earth”. (Are you sure he didn’t have an assistant write the guest post?)

    Love your acting work, Mr Cusack, but your writing? #notsomuch

    1. Oh that seems unnecessarily meanspirited to me, having spent time in person with the guy. He’s a wonderful, thoughtful, creative being. Not everyone gets everything about the internet when they first plug in.

      I’d give him a shot on Twitter again, if I were you, I think he’s got the hang of the medium more now.

      Yes, I am quite sure the guest posts (we’ve published two so far) were not written for him by an assistant, or in any way not representative of his own true thoughts. That, too, is an unfairly meanspirited thing to say, and a slam against Boing Boing and myself and our guest which I do not welcome or appreciate.

  7. I think people need to get over it. He does *know* how to spell the word Pakistan. The fact that john is so busy and still makes time to tweet to a lot of his fans personally is more than any other celebrities do. So if he tweets you, and you get pissed because he misspelled something, all I can say is may God help you!

  8. I like John Cusack (his projected demeanor, anyway), and, though not all lazy spellers are lazy thinkers, it’s a good policy to self-edit as best one can, particularly if one is a public figure.

    I blame the absence of an Internet when I was young… back when you didn’t need countless misspellings to accurately draw the conclusion that 95% of journalists are idiots. When someone clicks “send” on a post, tweet, email, etc., they should expect such pettiness. Prudence is far less common.

  9. …Handling these grammar nazis is pretty simple on Twitter. You block and report them for spam. IIRC, by blocking them it also prevents them from seeing your tweets as well as preventing you from having to see theirs. I’ve dealt with a bunch of punks – all attending the same college in California – who decided to start posting incessant tweets laiden with l33tsp3@k abuse. Only took 12 blocks and that put an end to their fun and games.

  10. I get embarrassed when I screw up and I try to write correctly. Today I see a lot of writing that makes me wonder if the author ever learned proper syntax and grammar.

    I’m willing to cut a lot of slack if the author at least gets his idea across.

  11. Presented without context, I first read “breakfasy” as a collision of “breakfast” and “heresy”. Which I think has potential… “No bacon? Breakfasy!”

  12. Leaving Mr. Cusack aside, I would suggest that perfection elitists also consider the fact that some folks have perception and cognitive differences, say, dyslexia for one example, that make it impossible for them to “just learn how to spell” or “just learn how to write English properly.”

    For some, it’s not a matter of being “sloppy,” unconcerned, or lazy. It can be a kind of disability or difference.

    So, keep that in mind before getting all spellier-than-thou on folks.

  13. my two cents is that anything is acceptable as long as I can scan it and figure it out without losing my train of thought. if i have to re-read what you wrote a few times to understand what you mean (or guess, or just give up and move on,) that’s rude. I’m bothering to read what YOU wrote, making me work for it is egocentric. common misspellings are familiar enough as to be an acceptable substitute for the correct word itself. I don’t care about that. typos can be more ambiguous. please don’t make me work to understand you. you owe your reader a quick scan of your writing before you post.

    when I read what you write, I am your guest. please take your role as host to heart.

    oh, and (obligatory):

    “Has anyone really been far even as decided to use even go want to do look more like?”

  14. Xeni – I’m not sure how being annoyed or commenting on an inability to write without major spelling or grammatical errors makes one a “perfection elitist”. Have our remedial standards for education fallen so far?

    Note: Only ~5% of the general population has Dyslexia severe enough to manifest as problems with typed orthography, and these grammar Nazis don’t seem to be complaining about those types of errors, or even simple typos – rather we see rants against improper use of “it’s” or “your” instead of “you’re” or ALLCAPS. It sure looks like it’s mostly a matter of people being sloppy, inarticulate or lazy.

    Don’t we all get mad when a politician or a rightwingnut hater can’t be bothered to get their basic facts right? Same same – People who don’t care enough to clearly articulate their message aren’t respecting the intelligence of their readers.
    I respect your right to disagree of course, and I also think abuse, public shame and vitriol are very poor motivators – but we should all work a little harder to raise our “pays attention to details” grades, and not just our “plays well with others” grades.

  15. Everyone has the choice, “follow” John or “unfollow” him. Accidental mispelling or intentional, only John knows. I sent a text recently from my cell phone and noticed later I did a typo….it happens!

    I find John interesting, probably because he’s so different from me. I’d much rather “mingle” on Twitter, than spend time critizing others!

  16. As someone who makes an effort to always spell correctly (even my text messages are appropriately capitalized and punctuated), maybe to an anal retentive degree, I still can’t help but think that people who obsess over other people’s spelling and grammatical mistakes are just desperately trying to make themselves feel superior. As much as it irks me to feel that weird cognitive dissonance when someone mixes up “your” and “you’re”, I find it much more annoying to see comments where people are arrogantly correcting them.

    I prefer to find amusement in spelling mistakes. Like when someone makes a typo in the common misspelling “definatly” and all of a sudden they’re doing everything “defiantly” instead. It makes people’s Facebook status update much more entertaining. “I’m defiantly not going to have this paper finished on time!”

  17. John Cusack can write however he wants. Personally, I think that when you’re using a medium where the written language is the face you are presenting to the world, then you should at least try to look like you give a crap about your appearance. Sloppy writers are like people who walk around town unshowered, wearing soiled sweatpants, with chocolate all over their mouth.

    And that’s your prerogative. I don’t give a crap about your appearance either! I’m not going to get on your case about it, but at least I know what kind of person I’m talking to – Someone who doesn’t give a shit.

  18. From the article:

    “A small but vocal subculture has emerged on Twitter of grammar and taste vigilantes who spend their time policing other people’s tweets — celebrities and nobodies alike.”

    Is this real? Are there clubs and meetings and so forth of “grammar Nazis”? Because when I read this, it sounds to me like someone has been corrected one-too-many times, and is no vilifying his perceived opponents.

    I think that people who correct spelling and grammar are just acting to correct something that bugs them. They aren’t “choosing” to be annoyed, it is just the way that they are. Many of them probably feel that they are helping out the person that they are correcting.

    Maybe they’re misguided or unwanted, but in the end they’re just people, and I think that painting them as a malicious club of ne’er-do-wells is somewhat disingenuous.

    1. Tsk.

      “…is no vilifying…” should be “…is now vilifying…”

      There’s no need to thank me.

  19. It’s easy to read one article and come to a misinformed opinion. It takes a little bit more to actually click the links in the article and develop an informed opinion about each of them. My blog, is a humorous look at twitter and the people who use it, however, it’s been reduced to “she mocks tweets that she thinks are stupid.” Untrue. If you want to call me an “anal-retentive, fail-wailing buzzkill” please read at least one of my posts first. You might still hate me, or change your opinion to “woman with a very strange sense of humor with too much time on her hands,” or even, “mediocre writer, even worse blog,” and that’s okay. You’ll at least be judging me on my merits (or complete lack thereof.)

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