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."
On the Twitter Patrol (New York Times)
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.
(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.)