Knowing how to talk to your community goes way beyond where you put your commas and semicolons. It's about knowing the language your specific community uses: the memes, the gifs, the emojis. The landscape is always changing. So what's “correct” and what's not?
Mignon Fogarty—Grammar Girl herself—is hopping on the program today to give her take on all things communication, including some truly invaluable insights into some of the conundrums she faces as the face of a very popular internet brand. (How do you maintain a separation between your human self and your “internet self?”)
Internet tone is truly an art these days and knowing what to say and when (like in the midst of a crisis) can be crucial. We'll also get into all kinds of other topics too: Mignon's crowdfunded game, Peeve Wars, where Mignon finds she gets the biggest response from her audience, and what “Familect” means. This may not be the most grammatically correct podcast ever, but we can bet you'll come away from this episode with some important nuances regarding the role of language and communication in community work.
Mignon Fogarty is better known as Grammar Girl — five-time winner of Best Education Podcast in the Podcast Awards and the founder of the Quick and Dirty Tips podcast network. She is the author of seven books about language, including the New York Times bestseller, Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing. She has also appeared as a guest expert on the Oprah Winfrey Show and the Today Show.
In This Episode:
- How to pronounce “Mignon Fogarty”
- Mignon's crowdfunded game, Peeve Wars (the goal of which is to “annoy your opponents to death”)
- Games as a vehicle for learning
- Making learning about grammer undeniably fun
- Where Mignon finds she gets the biggest response from her audience
- Reconciling differences between online and offline personas
- Figuring out what to say online . . . in the midst of disasters and crises
- “Light vs. Lite” (Jillian's burning question)
- The trick to coming across as credible in your online writing
- Internet tone as art
- The evolving, differing, specific role of language in online communities
- Bringing light to your communities when times seem dark
- After Atlas and Before Mars by Emma Newman
- Lights All Night Long by Lydia Fitzpatrick
- Peeve Wars game
The CX 014: Online Communication in the Age of the Emoji with Mignon Fogarty (aka Grammar Girl)
Tony Bacigalupo: What's the role that language plays in community? And in particular now with the way that language is changing, how do you know what kind of language to use? We've got emoji, we've got GIFs, we've got all different kinds of memes, and the landscape is changing. So, how do you know when you should or shouldn't use these things and what's right and wrong? Well, fortunately today, we've got Mignon Fogarty, aka Grammar Girl, who's going to give us her take on all of that as well, as the role of play and how to maintain some separation in your identity between your human self and your internet brand. All that and more on this episode of The Community Experience.
Welcome, welcome, welcome everyone to this episode of The Community Experience. I'm Tony Bacigalupo, and I've got Jill Benbow here as well.
Jillian Benbow: Oh, hello.
Tony: I said that like it's a surprise, but we're co-host so ...
Tony: Surprise. It's us again. So, language. Language, we have ... We're in an interesting time. We've got good old English, which is kind of a mess already, but with the internet, language is changing. We have emoji, and emojis look different on different operating systems. They mean different things to different people. In some cases they could be pretty universal, but in some cases their meanings might be interpreted differently by different cultures. We've got memes. We've probably got actually a lot of community organizers out there who have communities of people who are talking, using language and references that the community leaders might not know. There's a lot to talk about as far as language and ...
Tony: How you relate to it as a community leader.
Jillian: It's funny, especially even just in companies, like our company uses Slack to talk to each other. We're a remote fully remote team. I know I've worked for several companies that use slack and it took me so long. The prayer hands, I thought that was a high five for the longest time. I would use the prayer hands all the time, and I noticed people use it all the time in a way I would use high five, but then like, I don't even know what's going on. There's no consensus on what it actually means, except it works regardless of if you think it's prayer hands or high five. It's amazing.
Tony: See, I'm okay with thinking of it as a high five. That's cool for me.
Jillian: Did you think it was prayer hands?
Tony: It's kind of ambiguous, right? I even sometimes take it as like hands together and a bow, like thank you, which is a little bit of all of that together. Point is, it's fluid. How do you how do you decide how to communicate with your people, and what do you do when your people are communicating the way you don't understand? Probably good to just think about that. Who are your people and how do they talk to each other, and how do they expect you to talk to them? That's what we're going to talk about, among other things, with our guests today, Mignon Fogarty, who you've been a fan of Jill, aka Grammar Girl. Can you say a bit about how you kind of came across Mignon and her work?
Jillian: I've followed Mignon forever. She makes something that I think a lot of us sort of dislike, grammar, and makes it really fun and nonjudgmental. Yeah, and so she does it in such a way that it's fun and anybody that can make grammar fun is a saint, ‘cause who better to talk about communication and language than Mignon?
Tony: She really emphasizes play and she has a game, a card game crowdfunded called Peeve Wars, which makes the conversation around grammar fun and playful, and we talk about the role of playfulness for sure.
But Mignon's great. Check her out. She's Grammar Girl on the internets, and let's get into that conversation with Mignon Fogarty, aka Grammar Girl on this episode of The Community Experience.
Jillian: Oh, yeah. Prayer hands.
All right. Welcome everybody. We are so excited for our guest today. I love Mignon Fogarty. I have been following Grammar Girl since, I want to say, the beginning. I mean, I don't know actually when that was, but I'm pretty sure I was close by. Welcome. Welcome to the show Mignon.
Tony: Yay. Welcome Mignon.
Mignon Fogarty: Thank you, Jillian. Yay, thank you, Tony.
Jillian: Yeah, we're just delighted. When we were coming up with guests we wanted to join this show, you were like very top of our list, because you are a friend of SPI. You've been involved in different things we've done. I've had the pleasure to meet you for some SPI pro programming we did and it's just a blast, so thank you so much for being here.
Mignon: Yeah, and I enjoyed meeting you before too, so I'm happy to be back.
Jillian: For anybody listening, that's not familiar, Mignon, who are you? Give our audience a little bio.
Mignon: I'm Mignon Fogarty, better known as Grammar Girl, which is what I say in my podcast. I'm the host and creator of The Grammar Girl Podcast, which just celebrated 15 years going. I'm the founder of the Quick and Dirty Tips Podcast Network, which has a bunch of other shows now too. Gosh, I'm the author of seven books about language, including a New York Times best-seller that's going in my obituary. That's a big, big deal. I'm inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame. I love podcasting so much because it's been such a wonderful thing for me, and I could just talk to people about podcasting all day, every day.
Jillian: Well, great. I realize I mispronounced your last name, which is a very classic thing for me to do, so apologies.
Mignon: But you got my first name right, which is what people usually mess up, so I think you did great.
Jillian: Oh, well thanks. Well, thanks. Tony knows, I get very hung up on pronouncing things.
Tony: What's your favorite or least favorite mispronunciation of your name? I'm a Bacigalupo, so I have extensive experience with mispronunciation.
Mignon: Oh, I think Mig-non is the one that-
Fogarty: Mig-non, yeah.
Tony: It sounds like a drink you have at the holidays.
Jillian: It does. It sounds delicious. Mig-non. That's pretty good. That's pretty good. I mean, even just that is just amazing Everything you've accomplished, and my first thought is just like, wow. I mean obviously working very, very hard, but I mean, did it feel ... In the thick of it, the day-to-day, did it feel like, I mean, did it all just kind of — you know, you work hard at stuff and you take steps and it just sort of organically built upon itself?
Mignon: Yeah. I mean, in the beginning, I worked really, really hard. I don't think I took a weekend off for the first three years. It was crazy, and I've become much more proponent of not glamorizing over work. I would look back and I would say I probably regret that I worked that hard, but then having worked that hard, it's really tapered off over the years. So, it's hard to say like, did that hard work set me up now so that I have a lovely, sane life. Maybe it did. But I don't know, maybe it didn't, maybe it would've been fine either way.
Jillian: Just living the dream. That just sounds like such a great place to be. And I love that you've been so successful with something like the topic of grammar that most people ... It's like how I feel about math. If someone's like quick and dirty math tips, I'd be like, uh. Thinking about school, I'm like, no, oh no. You've taken something that is like scary to a lot of people and made it just so approachable and fun and interesting.
Mignon: That was really deliberate. From the beginning, everything from Grammar Girl being a cartoon character to, in the logo, to picking the color orange as the main color, orange is a friendly, happy color. I specifically chose that for that reason because grammar can be so intimidating. I was trying everything I could to make it fun and friendly and not intimidating. So definitely thought went into that.
Jillian: Absolutely. I'm sure a lot of people that interview want to talk about specifically about Grammar Girl and your podcast, but something that we were talking about a little before we hit record that I would love to dive into is this other project you have going on that started as a crowdfunding activity. So, why don't you fill everyone listening in on this idea and how it all came about, because it's really cool.
Mignon: Thanks. Yeah, I have a card game called Peeve Wars. There are grammar heroes and little monsters who are peeves, and your goal is to build an army of peeves that you then use to annoy your opponents to death. You attack with your army of peeves, and if you win, your opponents lose a cool point, they lose their cool. It's in the cartoon. A great thing, again, was finding good partners, because I had this idea for a game, pet peeves have always been little monsters, little cute monsters in my mind.
Then I had the idea for a game, but I didn't know how to make one. It's whole different thing from podcasting. But then Len Peralta is a fabulous artist who was available to do the art. And I met a good friend now named Joe Kisenwether, who is a game designer. When I realized Len could do the art and Joe could do the game, which you were talking about math, building a good game is a very mathy thing, and Joe is a mathematician who designs games. He really had the skills to make it fun. I came up with the idea, but he made it fun.
But still, how do we bring it all together? And then crowdfunding became a thing that people did. I realized I could make the game through a crowdfunding project. So, we did that back, way back in, I think it was 2014, that we did the crowdfunding project. The fans were amazing. It fully funded. This is the year that I'm finally promoting Peeve Wars for Christmas.
Jillian: That is so exciting.
Tony: And what a time to do it, I feel like we need some good, honest to goodness old-fashioned style, real games in our lives.
Mignon: Yeah. It's fun.
Tony: Fun is a good thing. We need more fun in the world. I'm curious your thoughts about the role of play and fun and making things games, especially when there are maybe topics that are important or scary or difficult, intimidating. What role do you see games playing in kind of breaking down barriers and getting people to open up and relax a little?
Mignon: Oh, I think they're huge too. I actually, I have another game that I actually don't want to promote, but I'm really into games as a way of learning. When I think way, way back to when I was starting Grammar Girl, my husband had a startup and we were living with my dad and my two younger brothers were there. My younger brother was, I think he was in junior high, and he was doing terribly, he was doing so bad in school, but he played Pokemon, and he could tell you everything about every card.
It was clear that he could learn, that he had a good memory, that he was intelligent. He just didn't care about school and he did care about Pokemon. I was thinking, how do we make learning more fun? How can we make learning like a game and entertaining? That was one of the things that was in my mind when I started the Grammar Girl Podcast is, it has to be fun.
Tony: Absolutely. Absolutely. What's the response been like? Yeah.
Mignon: It's been great. One of the things I did to make it fun is I have two recurring characters in the show. I've Squiggly and Aardvark. Squiggly is a yellow snail and Aardvark is a blue Aardvark, and they go on adventures together. They're kind of like the Bert and Ernie or the odd couple. Aardvark is very cranky, likes to fish. Squiggly is very irresponsible and we'll do anything for chocolate. And they get annoyed with each other. Actually, Aardvark only gets annoyed with Squiggly. Squiggly is pretty clueless.
But they show up in the example sentences a lot and sort of our running theme throughout the podcast. Then what was so gratifying is they appeared as cartoons first in the book. The artists for my books, we have some Squiggly and Aardvark cartoons to help people remember different rules, and then to see them come to life in the game, Len drew them in full color, they're black and white in the books, they're full color for Peeve Wars. It's been just so fun to see them sort of come to life.
Tony: Amazing. I feel like creating characters like that is so endearing and it must create a really strong relationship between the folks who find them and what you're doing, and that's a really great starting point for a crowdfunding campaign too. Have you found, in the course of creating that campaign, that there was this kind of wellspring of support and excitement built up where people are really, really excited to not just support you, but the characters you created as well?
Mignon: I think so. I think that the thing that really seemed to drive the crowdfunding to success was the ability for people to purchase ... Big contributors got to appear on a card, so those were the things that really brought us over the top in the end, as some ... A woman bought a card for her mom who was a librarian, and one of the grammar heroes in the game is The Librarian. There were people who wanted to see, either themselves or as a GIF to someone on a card, and that really made a big difference.
Tony: Wow. That sounds fun.
Jillian: That's a great idea.
Mignon: Yeah. Then they were drawn as ... Then Len drew them as cartoons. So, there's a caricature of them on the card.
Jillian: What a great way to get your super fans, the people who are obviously really into it to, beyond just crowdfunding, to actually be a part of it, to have a piece of that game. That's a really, really thoughtful way to let people feel like extra included.
Mignon: Yeah. It was really neat.
Tony: So cool. Are you finding that your interactions have gotten kind of more exciting or interactive in one area more than another? Is one area surprising you in terms of where people are showing up and responding?
Mignon: Yeah. So, I'm pretty active on social media. I have a big Facebook page, not a group, a page, about 650,000 fans, followers. I forget what they're called there. I'm probably most active on Twitter. That's where I'm sort of most available as a person, as opposed to a brand. Yeah. One thing I was thinking of when you're talking about crowdfunding, one thing, I think that all those things support the brand and the enthusiasm and the community, but when it comes to getting people to actually take an action, the newsletter is the most powerful thing to get people to actually click.
When I talk about something in the podcast and on social media, and then included in the newsletter, that's when we get the best response, that's the other thing that sort of drove the crowdfunding campaign to completion, was I think that you build excitement and you build enthusiasm and awareness on these other platforms, but it can be kind of hard to take action on those other platforms. When you can just put a click in front of people, a link to click that doesn't disappear on the newsfeed or the Twitter feed in 10 seconds, but it's there in the inbox, that has a lot of power in terms of making something happen.
But in terms of interacting and creating a sense of community, I think social media is great for that. One thing that's been really ... I recently started doing TikTok, maybe, I don't know, five, six months ago. I don't do it every day, and I'll take breaks and then I'll do like five days in a row, and then I won't do anything for a week. I'm super erratic. I'm like not doing it right. I'm definitely not doing it right if you wanted to build a huge audience there, but it's not really my goal to build a huge audience there. It's just sort of my goal to be there too, as a presence for people who are there.
I thought that I'd be reaching a lot of new people, and maybe I am, but been surprising me is how many people have commented, "Oh, I listen to your podcast, and I'm so excited to see you here. I've never seen your face before, and this is really fun." Every day or two, I get a comment like that. I'm actually reaching existing listeners who happen to be on TikTok and now they're seeing me there, and I think that's fun too.
Jillian: How funny. I follow you on TikTok, and I love your TikToks.
Mignon: Thank you.
Jillian: I think they're great.
Mignon: Yeah, it's a lot of fun. I really don't have an agenda there or ... If I wanted to build a big audience there, I'd be doing much more prescriptive stuff. I'd be doing S straight grammar tips, how to use a comma, but instead I tend to use it to talk about things about language that I find interesting, and then I sort of rotate in like a writing thing every once in a while, because I feel like I should, but I'm just messing around, but it's fun. Sometimes that's something that people enjoy seeing too, is just you being you, doing the things that are interest and not necessarily the most strategic thing you could possibly be doing.
Jillian: It's funny you mention that, because I actually noticed that, that on TikTok, what you're covering is different than the usual, the podcast and other places that you share knowledge. Yeah, there's a lot of like ... Oh, I just looked at it before we started recording and now I'm spacing it, but it's sailors ...
Mignon: Oh, landlubbers.
Jillian: landlubber. Yeah, and it's like, did you know? It's kind of a did you know thing. It's a clever, whether it's very intentional or not, it's a really clever strategy, for lack of a better word, for different platforms. Because I feel like I see a different side of where your brain is on TikTok than I might on your podcast. Of course, it's all overlapping, but it's kind of fun. I know when I see your TikTok, it's going to be something totally different than what I see elsewhere.
Mignon: Right. It's funny that landlubber one. I always thought landlubber was a funny way of saying land lover, but it's not, and I discovered that while I was editing that week's show about pirate talk for talk like a pirate day. The woman who had written it for me had landlubber, and I was like, oh, I should probably change that to land lover, and then I was like, I should probably look that up and be sure. Again, if I were being 100% strategic, I probably would've said in the TikTok that it was related to my episode this week, episode 841, check it out, link and bio. But again, I'm really just having fun.
Jillian: Sometimes I think that is more important, because then you'll stick with it if it's not like, oh, now I have to add a link, and I have to add this call to action.
Tony: People respond to authenticity, when you're coming back to that idea of fun and play, when you're having a good time, people feel you having a good time and they want to have a good time with you.
Tony: Which is a great thing. But I think that it does bring up a really interesting topic around your identity and how your identity relates to your brand or your community, things like that. One of the issues we see with community leaders is that they pretty consistently burn out and sustainable community leadership is kind of an elusive aspiration. So I'm curious what thoughts you have about how to play with that and what are some healthy ways of approaching it?
Mignon: Yeah. I'm not sure I know the healthy ways. Yeah, I've had this talk many times with people. Yeah, I think early, especially early on, in those early years when I was working myself to death, that my identity was 100 percent entwined with Grammar Girl in, perhaps even an unhealthy way. Lately, I've been finding that it's troublesome to me that my online persona doesn't necessarily match how I'm feeling in the world. I've been pretty bummed about the world. I'm a former scientist and a former science writer, so the pandemic has just really got me down in a big way.
And yet, I'm on line trying to be cheerful and friendly. I'm talking about grammar when sometimes my heart and my brain are saying, oh my God, the world is ending, who cares about comas? How can I possibly be out here talking about the difference between which versus that when there are 150,000 people getting COVID every week. I really struggle with continuing to operate my business in a way that doesn't always match what I'm feeling. I look at my accounts, especially my Twitter account that ... I don't have as much trouble on Facebook and LinkedIn where I just post links to articles for the most part and respond to comments.
But on Twitter where I am more of a person, I look at my account and I'm like, am I a brand? Am I a person? What am I here? I have a separate Twitter account, but it's a pain to switch between accounts, and I don't have as many followers there, so it's not as fun to post there, so I just find myself, always gravitating back toward posting everything on the Grammar Girl account, even when I feel like maybe I should keep them more separate.
I don't know. I feel like I can't be the doom and gloom girl. I'm Grammar Girl. But at home, I'm the doom and gloom girl.
Jillian: This is such an important topic though, because I think we ... As you're talking, I'm like, yeah, me too, because there's this, I know, like as a community manager in particular, I don't have the following you do, but same kind of idea where yeah, it's like, you don't want to say something that is going to become this big controversial thing and create more of an issue, but you also don't want to be silent on things that matter. It's a tough place. I think speaking of TikTokers and people on social media, somebody who I think does it really well is, I can't think of their name, but their handle is Under The Desk News.
Mignon: Oh, okay.
Jillian: Are you familiar with them?
Mignon: No, no, I'll check it out.
Jillian: It's Under The Desk. Yeah, it's great. It's just this wonderful person. The shtick is like hiding under the desk and delivering news. As we all know, the news mostly sucks and that's a lot of the content, but then they do this, like good news only banana shirt thing. So, they'll put this banana shirt on and be like, it's a good news only episode. But they're also, even though a lot of it is just like tough things that are going on, they're just so kind and they make you feel better about things in a way. I think that's a great example of an account that does it, but not to brush over the fact. I think Tony and I can both agree. It is very hard to decide how much to share.
Mignon: A recent example is the Caldor Fire. I had two friends whose homes were threatened by the Caldor fire, and yeah, I don't think my followers necessarily want to hear about. I don't know. But then I felt like ... There are times when I just go dark, I go silent because I feel like if I'm not willing to post about the bad things in the world that are affecting other people, then I don't deserve to post about grammar. But then I feel like I have a responsibility to post about Grammar, because it's not just me, I'm part of a company and people depend on me for their jobs. Not that every tweet matters, but yeah, I struggle with that a lot, a lot, a lot.
Jillian: Yeah. There's something valuable. We talk a lot about boundaries in community, and in community building, it's a big part of the profession because you can burn out so easily.
As an aside, I want a definitive answer on this because I have so many opinions and I've been saving it for this interview, but ... You know what I mean? It's amazing how many times you might post something that matters deeply to you, and one person sees that and it impacts them in such a positive way. It was 100 percent worth it. You just don't see that in the retweets and the likes and all the algorithm stuff.
Mignon: Right. One really rewarding thing I did recently too, for the 15th anniversary podcast, I raised $15,000 for donors choose for teachers. That was amazing. It felt so good, and thank due to the listeners who donated. Then I was, and this is where I get inside my head, I was ... Then every Tuesday, I was going to pick a teacher and do just a campaign for that individual teacher. I did that for a few weeks, but then the Caldor Fire happened and the hurricane in New Orleans. I thought, how can I ask for money for this classroom to buy books when there are people whose homes have been destroyed.
Then I stopped doing it because it felt like it wasn't enough, but I think I should start doing it again, but I especially get hit by these big disasters. They just really throw me off, but then COVID's like an ongoing big disaster. Yeah, it's a thing.
Tony: I guess it's a matter of practice that there are different forms of media that you can use and there are different accounts you can use. For me, personally, maybe that's my Instagram Stories or something or my Facebook page or something like that. But it sounds like it's something that we're all probably figuring out as we go, and I don't know that anybody has it perfect.
Mignon: Yeah. I think you made an excellent point because I do remind myself that I find great comfort in other people's frivolous content. That's something to not forget either, is that people want and need distractions no matter what's going on.
Jillian: What you said about getting lost in other people's silly or frivolous content, yes, I wholeheartedly agree. I have my own views, and like everybody in this country anymore, they're strong and they might not be the same as everyone else's. It's nice to consume content that has nothing to do with that.
Okay. I want to just shift gears. This is silly, but I feel like silly's great. Silly and frivolous. I need your honest answer on a question that's been bothering me for years and I have to be fair, I've looked it up and I have not found a satisfying answer. I'm curious on your take because I love your take. The word light. I've seen it spelled two ways, L-I-G-H-T and L-I-T-E, and a lot of people and companies seem to use them interchangeably. What are your thoughts on this?
Mignon: That is a lot like thru and through. So, light, L-I-G-H-T is the traditional standard English spelling. And the lite, L-I-T-E, I would say is sort of the marketing spelling. You want some lite ice cream. You might see it with L-I-T-E, lite donuts. It's very much the same, made me think of thru and through. Often drive thrus are drive T-H-R-U. You'll never see a drive through, I don't think, written as T-H-R-O-U-G-H, but that's the traditional standard English spelling. I think lite and light are the same.
Thru, T-H-R-U is expanding, is becoming, I wouldn't say ... You shouldn't use it in a school essay, you shouldn't use it in a company's annual report, you shouldn't use it in a cover letter for a job, but you will see it in blog posts and in informal communications like that, and it's not the end of the world. I think it's the same for Lite, L-I-T-E. It's just a very informal spelling. Then the people who are the grammar sticklers, the hardcore grammar people would say it's an abomination, and it is laziness and it's ruining, dumbing down the English language, but I don't think that.
But there are people who think that so that's why you have to be careful to use it when you're not in a position where you need to be perceived as credible, I guess.
Tony: Well, okay. This actually, it's kind of a random connection, but being perceived as credible, I think it's valuable for us to talk about it because we're talking about community building.
It seems to me like making sure that you're doing a good job with your language, oh, great, of course I'm butchering my grammar, as I am saying this, that you're handling your language well is a super important thing that some people may not even realize is a thing. Can you speak more to that?
Mignon: Yeah, I think that's generally true, but I think it also depends on the context. I mean, if you are running, I don't know, like a heavy metal community, nobody's going to expect your grammar to be perfect. In fact, if it was, if it were, you might even be seen as suspicious because you're too proper. I think it does depend on the context, but in general, I think that it is good you want to have proper grammar and punctuation and all that when you're posting as a professional, but even so, let's go on a kid's today talk.
I was at the American Copy Editors Society meeting two ... Actually, years ago now, probably three years ago, and on to talk about social media. Two of the women who are giving the talk were younger than I am, and they're very credible accomplished women. They said that typically you shouldn't end a sentence with a period on social media, that you should just write it out and not put a period. That, that's the way it's kind of done on Twitter and Facebook and Instagram and on social media.
There was a collective gasp in the room. They were on the younger side of everyone who was there. I mean, people were just like, no. But I mean, I think they were right, at least in some contexts. I mean, if you are 25 and writing on Twitter and your community is all 25, that is the right way to do it for that group of people. That's what they are used to seeing, that's what they expect to see. I really think it comes down to, to the age old advice that was given decades ago. It's still relevant, consider your audience. Who is your audience? Who are you writing for?
If it's 16 year olds or 50 year old rockers, or whatever, it's different from if you're writing for a group of marketers or a group of editors.
Jillian: That's so interesting. It's also the flip too. If I want it to be seen as credible to more of the like older boomers, for example, I would really want to tighten that grammar up, because if I'm missing punctuation, they'd immediately be like, who is this?
Mignon: Yes. Yeah. It just depends. There's a fascinating age related difference with emoticons. Older people tend to put noses in their smiley faces and younger people leave out the nose, and you can kind of tell how old someone is by whether they put a nose in their smiley faces or not.
Jillian: Oh, that's so funny.
Tony: I'm like the oldest millennial. I'm on the very oldest end of millennial side. I feel like, although sometimes it's made very apparent to me that I am old now, and the kids are doing things totally differently. I heard that the laughing emojis, the kids don't ... Whatever. Anyways. The point is I could, in my communications with a given community, really play up my younger side of my millennial energy and use lots of emojis and GIFs and things, or I could pull that back and keep things straight and clean and more traditional and professional, but which approach is going to work better and be more effective for my audience is going to depend a lot on who's in the room and what they're going to respond to.
Mignon: Exactly. I had a really interesting experience with GIFs a couple of years ago. I just searched for some sort of reaction thing. It was something like happy here. I don't know. I picked this GIF that just visually represented what I was trying to do, and a bunch of people responded, I loved that scene in that movie, and I didn't know what it was. I was thinking, wow, I'm so lucky that, that wasn't something offensive, or the GIFs, they can carry these layers of meaning that you're not aware of if you don't know where they come from. So, that was a really good lesson for me to be more careful choosing GIFs that I know what they mean.
Tony: I'll give a shout to KnowYourMeme.com, K-N-O-W, KnowYourMeme.com, which provides the backstory and explanation of the etymology of a given meme. Of course, Urban Dictionary, the classic comes in handy as well.
Mignon: Very useful.
Jillian: I love a good GIF or meme. I mean, I almost feel like, with the emojis, it's almost like hieroglyphics, like we've gone full circle in our language, but it's just like the next dimension of it.
Tony: And it's universal. It goes across languages.
Mignon: There are some people doing really interesting research about emojis as gestures. I think her name is Lauren Gawne. I think she's one of the hosts of the Lingthusiasm Podcast. She's a linguist who researches gestures. I believe she says that emoji sometimes replace a gesture, and not just like the thumbs up emoji, obviously that's like a gesture, but whereas we might, I don't know, do things gesture wise, other emoji that aren't as obvious can also take the place of that which is missing in written communication.
Jillian: Oh yeah. I love to do like ... I usually do it to my mom. Sorry, mom, but if she like sends something to me that I'm like, what? I'll do like the face that just has the eyes that are slants in the mouth. So, slants kind of like, what are you doing? I'm not impressed, kind of over the top, dramatic daughter reaction basically, but it works. It's a whole message.
Tony: Well, it's interesting, because it feels we're all compelled to consider the implications of the shift in language. I feel like this is probably an ongoing conversation among grammar circles about written communication. There's pretty consistent rules and the way that, that's structured. I feel like there's probably an ongoing question and shift around like, what even is correct grammar in different contexts now.
Mignon: Another AP style book has been struggling in updating the style book to address how to, for example, how to quote a tweet that has emoji in it, or at the end, or how to quote a tweet that has an attached GIF. Because you do want to give the whole context, it wouldn't be the same if you just wrote what someone wrote in the tweet, but didn't mention the GIF, so they're coming up with style guides, style rules for how to handle that.
Tony: It makes sense, right? Because you've got really important communications that are happening, celebrities or politicians or something.
Mignon: World leaders. Yeah.
Tony: Where the content of what they're saying is the words and also the whatever is attached to it, the visuals. Crazy. Well, and it's worth noting, as a community manager, you might also have to be managing these kinds of things within your community that you might have —
Jillian: Oh absolutely. As someone who's managed a very large teen community before, yes. I took on the ... Yeah. Having to know how to use the word, Yeet. Yes. Yeah. Which became an ongoing joke, because I would intentionally use it wrong to rile them up, and then it turned into a whole ... It's a whole thing. I have a mug that says Yeet on it, that was a joke, as a result.
Mignon: That's awesome. I love that.
Jillian: Internet tone is an art, and so if you can add this little image at the end, that either reinforces what you're saying or shows that this is a joke, it's pretty interesting. It's like very advanced, where language and technology meet and just turn into some whole new level. Right?
Tony: I'm also realizing, there's a lot of opportunity for embracing the change in language that you can create, that you can create your languages or inside jokes and imagery. In our team, SPI Slack, we have custom emoji reactions. Frankly, I don't understand what most of them even mean.
Jillian: Oh really, like which ones?
Tony: Like the weird little, fast moving rainbow jelly things that go back and forth. Give me like an-
Jillian: The party parrot.
Tony: No. David uses them a lot. They're like epileptic, little like flashy things, and they're super annoying but —
Jillian: I think that's one of the many party parrots. Yeah.
Tony: Oh, they're parrots.
Jillian: It's the one that's on overdrive.
Mignon: But there's that customization again. People love to create their own tools, their own language, their own way of communicating. We end every Grammar Girl podcast with a familect story, which is someone telling the story of a word their family, and only their family uses. A lot of people tell me they love that part of the show, and they're always just fascinating stories of words that families use themselves that nobody else would know what they meant. It's a way of showing in-group connection.
Jillian: Yeah. That's great. Well, my gosh, I could talk forever about all of these things, but I think we should move to the lightning round. What do you think, Tony? Is it time?
Tony: Yeah, go for it ‘til the end.
Jillian: Excellent questions.
Tony: My heart rate is speeding up.
Jillian: Yeah. All right, Mig-non. Mignon, when you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Mignon: A writer.
Tony: Any particular kind?
Mignon: Actually, I wanted to be a journalist. I wanted to be Lois Lane.
Jillian: Oh my gosh, and you did do that. You were, like, you used to teach journalism.
Mignon: I was. I was a journalism professionally.
Jillian: Yeah. Well done, Lois. How do you define, oh — this will be really good because of your background — how do you define community?
Mignon: A group of people with a common interest who are there to support each other.
Jillian: Love it. Yes. Okay. Whether you have a literal, figurative ... Whether you have a bucket list or not, what is something that would be on your "bucket list" that you have done, something you've always wanted to do that you did?
Mignon: Oh, I took an amazing vacation. I went to a cruise to Antarctica, and that was my last big vacation before the pandemic. I'm just eternally grateful that I got to do it. I saw so many penguins. Penguins and whales, just every day, it was amazing.
Jillian: How does the cruise to the ... How does that work? Like where did you start and how long of a boat trip?
Mignon: Yeah. It was almost a month long. God, I don't remember now where we started. I think we started in Florida and I think we ended in LA, and we went down around the tip.
Jillian: Oh wow.
Mignon: We went through the Cape, the horn. I'm blanking on all the names, but where the where there's two seas meet. What is it called? It's the horn.
Jillian: You could tell me. Yeah, I don't know.
Mignon: The seas are incredibly rough because the two oceans come together there, and so we had 20 foot waves and it was crazy. You couldn't even go get food in the cafeteria because you could hardly stand up and it was wild. Then the ice is just incredible and beautiful and the sea life is amazing. Yeah, it was a trip of a lifetime and I'm just so grateful we got to do it.
Jillian: That's amazing. Yeah, glacial ice is like the color of heaven. It's just like the most beautiful blue. I love it so much.
Jillian: Well, wow. All right. Well, then I'm really interested in this next one. What is something on your bucket list that you have yet to do? What's a big goal you have for your life?
Mignon: This well I've had for a really long time, probably 10 or 15, probably 10 years now is I want to ... I think I want to write a novel, but I haven't done it. So, do I really want to do it or I just do I just want to say I've done it? I'm a huge writing advice fan, so I love reading, writing advice books. I love listening to writing advice podcasts, but when it comes to sitting down and actually writing something, I have not made even remotely good progress. I'm sort of re-evaluating whether I want ... I'm asking myself, do I actually want to do this?
If so, then why haven't I? That's something that I need to interrogate, but that is like the biggest project I can think of that would be sort of a bucket list kind of thing that I would like to accomplish, I think.
Jillian: Maybe you just need the right story to come to you to set off the writing.
Mignon: Yeah, but I've had 10 years. What's the problem? I don't know.
Jillian: Okay. This'll be great. What is a book that you've either recently read or just sticks with you because you love so much that you think everybody should read?
Mignon: Well, I just finished a series of the audio books that I really liked. I'm really bad about remembering names, but I think it was called After Atlas and Before Mars, and I forget what the third book in the series is, and the author's name is Emma, and I can't remember her last name. I think it starts with an N. But the audio books were just really great, especially the second one in the series was my favorite, and they just had such ... The premises of these books were just fascinating. I really, really enjoyed them.
Jillian: These are fiction, yeah?
Jillian: They look science fiction. Yeah.
Mignon: Science fiction. Yeah. Are you finding it? Can we get her actual name?
Jillian: Emma Newman.
Mignon: Emma, I was right. It starts with an N. Then there's one I did a TikTok about, and I think the title is Lights All Night Long. It's something like that, or very similar to that. It was the best book at doling out information only as you needed it. It was like a page Turner because you just got, it was a weird story and you just got tiny bits of what was actually happening through the first 20% of the book or so, and it just kept me completely engrossed, and as I said, because I'm a writing advice junkie I could see like, this is the best example of withholding information from the reader that I remember ever reading.
I thought that was just incredibly impressive. I recommended the book when I was about a third of the way through, and a bunch of people said, "Well, that's kind of risky, isn't it?" It's true, but I finished it and I still loved it by the end.
Jillian: Yeah. It looks like it's Lights All Night Long by Lydia Fitzpatrick.
Mignon: Yes. Thank you.
Jillian: That sound, right?
Jillian: Sounds good. I think we have similar book taste. I'm going to have to find you on book read or Goodreads [crosstalk]. Okay. If you could live anywhere else in the world, where would you live?
Mignon: Oh, that's easy, Uruguay? I love Uruguay. We saw it on our ... I had a graduate student who did a semester there and was always talking about how wonderful it was, and so when we went on that cruise, we stopped, and we had a stop in Uruguay, and I loved it as much as he talked about it and thought it would be an amazing place to live. It's right on the ocean. They don't have earthquakes. They don't get tornadoes or they don't get hurricanes. The people are really nice. The biggest problem for me is that there's not a lot of English there. I've been trying to learn Spanish.
It's funny, I do Duolingo, but I probably only do five minutes a day. The equivalent of like half a high school Spanish class after a year or something like that, so I feel like I'm not making great progress, but I'm not putting an extraordinary amount of time into it either, but yeah, you would pretty much have to learn Spanish to be able to live there and function well. But other than that, it looks amazing.
Jillian: Just think of the Spanish grammar tip opportunity that you have awaiting you in Uruguay. All right, and final question. How do you want to be remembered?
Mignon: Oh, I want to be remembered as someone who helps people, someone who's really, really nice and made a difference in the world during her time here, that if I'm remembered like that, I would be happy.
Jillian: That is beautiful, and a perfect note to end on. Mignon, thank you so much for joining us and talking about all sorts of things. I want to make sure if someone, for some reason, doesn't know where you are, where can they go to find you?
Mignon: Well, my website is QuickandDirtyTips.com, and there's the Grammar Girl's section there. And you can find me on Twitter and Facebook is Grammar Girl. And then on Instagram, I'm The Grammar Girl, and on TikTok, I think I'm The Real Grammar Girl. If you search for me, you can usually find me almost anywhere by searching for Grammar Girl.
Jillian: Awesome. And then the game is Peeve Wars, and where can people buy that?
Mignon: Yes. If you do a Google search for peeve wars, for me, the top result is the store, and a company called The Game Crafter. It's a US print on-demand company, and they're saying like buy now to get it in time for Christmas. You probably have a little bit of time, but everyone's saying you should do your Christmas shopping early this year. So, it's Peeve Wars, annoy your opponents to death at TheGameCrafter.com.
Jillian: Awesome. Thank you so much.
Mignon: Thank you. It's been a pleasure. I love to talk about these interesting deep things.
Tony: There we have it, our interview with Mignon Fogarty, aka Grammar Girl, and so fun. I really love where we kind of landed the plane in that conversation, especially the idea of really leaning into inside jokes, making up your own words, making up your own language within your community.
Jillian: Yeah, I couldn't agree more. There's something that can make a community special. Certainly you don't want to be so exclusive that only the cool people know what this means, but great example that happened somewhat recently is our audience driven summit in the chat for the summit, there were members of our community, SPI Pro, and everyone kept saying team grape, team peach, and we all knew that's our mastermind group names and we were just having so much fun and we did explain it to everybody else, but the fact that we have that kind of inside joke, because we do that all the time in our live calls. We're like, who's here? What mastermind groups?
Tony: Yeah, exactly. I'm sure those people felt a great amount of joy and pride in shouting out those team names as they went, and community is about, in a lot of ways, identity, having that shared language.
I also want to shout out, Know Your Meme, by the way, if you ever feel like you are behind and you do not get what the heck is going on with memes, KnowYourMeme.com is the way is the way. It really helps you out.
Jillian: They give a legitimate origin story. It's almost scientific. It's beautiful.
Tony: Yeah. It's like an encyclopedia.
Jillian: Tony, what's your favorite like meme?
Jillian: I know that's a really hard question.
Jillian: It's like picking a favorite child.
Tony: I really liked, this isn't the all-time answer, but I really liked when Biden was being inaugurated and Bernie Sanders was sitting there with his arms folded and ...
Jillian: With the mittens.
Tony: With the mittens. He had like a manila envelope under his arm, and it was like, somebody on the internet said like, Bernie Sanders has the energy of ... This is like, I have other things to do today. Yeah, that does it for me. What about you, Jill?
Jillian: I really liked the Spider-Man one where it's the two Spider-Mans pointing at each other.
Tony: Oh yeah. Timeless. You could use that in so many contexts.
Jillian: So many, so many.
Something I really liked talking about with Mignon, because I think we all feel this on a level, depending what our branding, our message, whatever it is we're trying to do in the world, but something that she touched on is the criticism. She said people are dying. Who cares about which versus that? Do I use the word which or do I use the word that for something like, who cares about grammar when the world is in this state it is? Because I think we all feel that way time to time, is what I am passionate about or focused on.
Does it even really matter? I think it's important to come from a place of having fun and exploring your creativity and what jazzes you up, because that is the respite from the world is on fire, and another meme. This is fun, with the fire everywhere.
Tony: Oh, this is fun meme is so, so good as well, really helped us get through some crazy times.
Jillian: Top five for me.
Tony: It's a really nuanced thing though, and you have to deal with it in community where I might, as a person or as a brand, wake up on a given day and say, okay, today I'm so cheerful and I want to talk about something that I care about that maybe is a little bit silly, but I care about it, like which versus that. Then you wake up and it's like, oh, some terrible thing happened and a bunch of people are angry, and there's a huge controversy and your whole timeline is filled with it. And you have that kind of moment of Jay-Z meme where he's like ... And turning away. Homer backing into the bushes like, maybe I shouldn't talk about this.
But then we have stretches sometimes where that could go on for weeks or months. In some ways, you could look at it as years of just, when is it okay to talk about stuff that isn't the serious crises of our time and how do you strike that balance recognizing that maybe you care a lot about those things?
Well, it reminds me of 9/11. After 9/11, The Onion published a series of articles, just going straight at 9/11. At first, I think like, well, how could anybody do anything tasteful, even reasonably tasteful about 9/11? But it was so funny. It was so funny because it went right after what was going on in a way that wasn't insensitive. It was actually quite sensitive to how we were feeling in that moment. “God Angrily Clarifies Do Not Kill Rule.” It's like just so many really, really terrorists surprised to find selves in hell. It's really cathartic. Maybe there's that balance you can find in your community as well.
Jillian: Because when you give all hope, then what's the point? You got to keep going. You got to keep on keeping on.
I will say though, maybe we end it on this, is it reminds me of the Mr. Rogers quote about his mom that, I'm going to brutalize this. I'm sorry. But it was like, when horrible things happen, his mom said, "Look for the helpers." I think keeping your spirits up helps you be the helpers.
Tony: I like it. Go be the helpers, go keep your spirits up, bring the light, make happy memes, make fun inside jokes, keep doing fun things with your community. We'd love to hear how you feel about all of this and what your favorite memes are. Find us on @TeamSPI on Twitter, and we'd love to hear from you. So, go forth and meme.
Jillian: Life's a garden, dig it?.
Tony: All right, guys.
Jillian: All right.
Tony: Oh, that's an inside reference I didn't get.
Jillian: Well, we will see you next Tuesday on The Community Experience.
Tony: This has been The Community Experience. For more information on this episode, including links and show notes, head over to SmartPassiveIncome.com/listen.
Jillian: Mignon is Grammar Girl and you can find her pretty much all over the interwebs but, main website is QuickandDirtyTips.com — of course the Grammar Girl Podcast which can be found anywhere you listen the podcasts. If you want to learn more about Mignon’s new game, Peeve Wars, head on over to TheGameCrafter.com. And on social she’s @GrammarGirl or @TheRealGrammarGirl, depending on the platform. Search her up and you will find her.
Tony: Our executive producer is Matt Gartland. Our series producers are David Grabowski and senior producer Sara Jane Hess. Editing and sound designed by Duncan Brown. Music by David Grabowski.
Jillian: See you next time.