After last week’s break for my new computer, it’s back to the dissertation grind, my friend! As I mentioned in my review of the new machine, I’d hoped it would boost my productivity, and it has so slightly. I’ve gotten a little more than a thousand words a day done over the past week–not a huge improvement, but something, and at least I’m making steady progress, which is the important thing. Slow and steady wins the race, after all.
I think I’m about halfway done with the first chapter I’ve been working on. Maybe if I get very lucky I’ll be able to finish it entirely over a productive weekend, which would be a feather in my cap. If not, no big deal, I’m not in any huge hurry. ;D
So anyways, here’s an amusing vignette I thought you guys might like from the writing I did yesterday. Can’t say too much, but I can offer a little quote. I’d gotten to the part where I was to discuss George Fitzhugh’s proslavery writing, one of the earliest examples of which was his little pamphlet, Slavery Justified. According to his introduction to it in the appendix of his later work, Sociology for the South, it was originally meant “for a few friends.” His 20th-century biographer Harvey Wish noted that these were probably his personal friends whom he talked with regularly in Port Royal, Virginia, where he lived. So I wrote that description of it in the body of that chapter, but only after a revision. See, I had to stop myself from writing “Slavery Justified was originally written for Fitzhugh’s IRL friends” as opposed to what I actually did write–“the pamphlet was intended for only a few of his personal friends at the time.” (1)
It’s a funny little recollection–silly ol’ Gunlord almost injecting some anachronistic cyber-lingo into his academic dissertation–but on thinking about it, I began to wonder what it said about me and my own thinking. As I’m sure most of you know, IRL stands for “In Real Life,” and refers to anyone and anything you interact with outside of a computer. Since they didn’t have computers back in the nineteenth century, everything was IRL for George Fitzhugh. But my almost-mistake made me consider that for some time, I’ve been thinking of IRL as “anything you interact with *in person.*” I realized that I’d been classifying penpals, people with whom you interacted via letters, the reading public at large–just anyone you didn’t talk to face to face, more or less–as, well, if not online, then “not IRL.”
A silly thing, certainly, though at the risk of sounding defensive, I would say it’s not entirely foolish–it’s not wholly unreasonable to consider folks someone knows only through correspondence or not at all to be a little separate from those he speaks to every day. It does go to show, however, how words and terms–not just or always slang, for that matter–can come to have rather idiosyncratic definitions for individuals over time. I doubt all too many people aside from myself have considered “IRL” to mean “people known face to face or in person” as opposed to just “In Real Life” generally. While that doesn’t necessarily make terms like that unsuited for academic discourse, it does mean one ought to be very, very careful before using them. In my case, of course, it would have been unnecessary, but even for anyone else, it strikes me as a good idea to think twice before using a slang term academically that you use fairly often personally. It may just be possible the term means something different in your mind than it does in most people’s.
Of course, checking your work over twice and revising (and revising, and revising) is something you should always do, no matter what you’re writing about. So everything described in this entry is something any experienced writer would be doing anyways! But I thought it was an amusing little insight into my own mode of thinking, if nothing else. Next week I’ll have another progress report for you, as well as maybe a brief description of the sort of music I listen to while I write. ;D
Citation 1: Harvey Wish, George Fitzhugh, Propagandist of the Old South (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1943, reprinted in 1962 by Peter Smith), 54, George Fitzhugh, “Slavery Justified” in George Fitzhugh, Sociology for the South, or the Failure of Free Society (Richmond, VA: A. Morris, 1854), 225.