cs492 - Spring 2017

Societal Implications with Computer Science

Assignment 4: Tweets from the Time Machine.

Due. At the beginning of class 24 July, 2017.

In this assignment you are given a collection of tweets originating in the eighteenth century. (I don't know if they are the result of a time machine in the eighteenth century projecting them forward or the result of a time machine in the twenty-first century projecting a twitter account backward. Suffice it to say that the tweets did travel through time, in some cases more than three hundred years.) In the first part of the assignment you analyse the collection in terms of the parallel structures described in the Improving you Writing part of the assignment write-up. In the second part of the assignment you produce five tweets that are based on one or more parallel structures, written on any topic you like, and with any course-relevant message you like.

In assignment 2 you wrote a dialogue in the form of TEXTs. In this assignment you will write a collection of tweets, which are very similar to TEXTs. They are limited to 140 characters each, a length limit inherited from TEXTs, of which they are a specialization.

While TEXTs and tweets are very similar in form their use cases differ widely. TEXTs are normally sent one-to-one (or a few) with a strong shared context linking the sender and receiver(s). They thus contain much abbreviation and specialized jargon that is well known to within the communicating group and poorly known to outsiders. In assignment 2, because you were writing a story with a hypothetically wide readership we asked you to use standard spelling and grammar.

The use case of tweets is broadcast: for a tweet the bigger its audience the better the tweet. Tweets are thus uneasy with specialized jargon, confining themselves to normal vocabulary, spelling and grammar. You should expect to follow that style in the tweets you write for this assignment.

The First Part of the Assignment

In the first part of the assignment you analyse ten of the sixteen tweets below into the parallel structures that comprise them. Begin by reading about parallel structures in the section below entitled Improving your Writing.

Below you will find sixteen tweets that originated in the eighteenth century. Choose ten of them, preferably including a variety of different structures. Then, use a contrasting colour to underline and circle significant parts of the parallel structures they contain, drawing arrows to indicate what corresponds to what. You can do the drawing before or after printing the tweets, making certain that the colour contrast is easily visible in what you hand in.

The Tweets

Jonathan Swift

I told him that we ate when we were not hungry, and drank without the provocation of thirst.
She has more goodness in her little finger than he has in his whole body.
Laws are like cobwebs, which may catch small flies, but let wasps and hornets break through.

Joseph Addison

And those who paint them truest praise them most.
But you shall flourish in immortal youth, unhurt amoung the wars of elements, the wrecks of matter, and the crash of worlds.
When I am in a serious humour I often walk by myself in Westminster Abbey.

Richard Steele

Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body.

Samuel Johnson

It matters not how a person dies, but how they live.
George the First knew nothing, and desired to know nothing; did nothing, and desired to do nothing.
A cucumber should be well sliced, and dressed with pepper and vinegar, and then thrown out, as good for nothing.
I would rather see the portrait of a dog that I know, than all the allegorical paintings they can show me.

David Hume

He is happy whom circumstances suit his temper; but he is more excellent who suits his temper to any circumstance.
To hate, to love, to think, to feel, to see; all this is nothing but to perceive.
The feelings of our heart, the agitation of our passions, the vehemence of our affections, dissipate all the conclusions of reason.
A propensity to hope and joy is real riches: One to fear and sorrow, real poverty.

Oliver Goldsmith

He who fights and runs away, lives to fight another day.

The Second Part of the Assignment

In the second part of the assignment you write five tweets: the subject of the tweets should be course-related; every tweet should contain at least one parallel structure, preferably more.

We are asking you to write tweets for the same reason we asked you to write TEXTs in Assignment 2. Tweets are short, about twenty words at the longest, so every word counts. You should be thinking carefully about every word you write: Is it needed? Is it the right word, or is there a better word? Is it in the right place? When you write something short the reader allocates it a small amount of attention. You want to grab that small amount of attention and make the reader think again, so that you get more attention than the reader planned.

Your tweets will be marked equally for content, which should indicate that you have read, thought about and discussed the course material, and for style, which should indicate that you have written and edited your tweets with care. As always there are extra marks for tweets that make the marker laugh, that make the marker understand something novel, that make the marker admire the wording.

Improving your Writing

Reread the first sentence of the fifth and final paragraph of the introduction. After the colon, ":", is an introductory phrase "for a tweet" followed by two adjective phrases, "the bigger the audience" and "the better the tweet". The two phrases are strongly similar one to the another: each has "the" in the first and third position, an adjective in the second position and a noun in the fourth position; the two adjectives both start with 'b' and end with 'er', with the stress on the first syllable. This is called a parallel structure.

Now reread the second sentence of the same paragraph. Can you hear the parallel structure? The introductory phrase is "Tweets are thus"; the parallel phrases are "uneasy with specialized jargon" and "confining themselves to normal vocabulary, spelling and grammar". This example is freer than the first, but a parallel structure all the same.

A parallel structure is build out of two pieces of language, words, phrases, sentences, even paragraphs, that can replace one another in a larger piece of language. When you include the two of them side by side, as in the examples above, you are putting them in parallel. You can do this

Well-designed parallel structures are easy on the reader, so they are common in expository writing. For example, The Luxury Trap is full of them, at all granularities.

  1. Each parallel structure has a frame into which the parallel structure is inserted. The frame completes the thought inside which the parallel language resides.
  2. Each part of a parallel structure plays the same grammatical role.
  3. Each part of a parallel structure is roughly the same length.
  4. Each part of a parallel structure is of the same kind.
  5. There may be more than two parts in a parallel structure. Even such a humble phrase as "tables, chairs and desk lamps" is a parallel structure.
  6. Note that parallel structures -- particularly structures that appear to be parallel when the parallelism is broken in a twist at the end -- are a common component of jokes. The third tweet by Samuel Johnson is an example of a joke written by a man who dislikes cucumbers. Modern examples exist at alexcartoon.com.
  7. A joke is a special case of a story. Here is an example of getting a whole story (and a lot of parallelism) into 140 characters in a tweet by William Hazlitt: "The dupe of friendship and the fool of love; have I not reason to despise myself? Indeed, I do; for not having despised the world enough." The second tweet of Swift sketches a fable.

Cicero thought that the number of parts in a parallel structure is significant. According to him, when there are two the reader compares them; when there are three the reader looks for their commonality.

Techniques for enhancing parallel structures.

English has many methods for emphasizing the relationship between parallel structures, some borrowed from the Romance languages, others from the Germanic languages.

These techniques are often found in advertising slogans and popular song lyrics. They are even found in academic writing.

In the era from which the example tweets originate the tweet, a short pithy remark that introduced a new idea without pomposity, was the essence of sociable conversation. The ability to produce such remarks on demand made one a desirable addition to any dinner party. Would that all Twitter were held to this standard. Could an AI do so? (I say this having spent three days trawling through twitter looking for interesting examples.)

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