When they write the history of early-21st-century pop culture, they will surely have to carve a little niche for the phenomenon known as Sh*t Girls Say.
From its original and otherwise unexceptional first tweet in April, 2011 – "Could you pass me that blanket?" – SGS has become a social-media marvel, an object lesson in meme-making.
The creation of Toronto's Kyle Humphrey (graphic designer) and Graydon Sheppard (writer/director), the wavelet of tweets about the often funny and weird things that young women tend to say has turned into a Twitter-feed tsunami – 1.6 million followers and counting.
Anchored by the obligatory website (now somewhere north of 11 million hits), it quickly morphed into a series of YouTube videos (four, for the moment, already boasting 30 million views) featuring Sheppard in drag and cameos by one of their most faithful Twitter followers, actress Juliette Lewis.
And now comes its latest incarnation, Sh*t Girls Say, the book, a novelty-sized, pastel-drenched hardcover published, fittingly, by Harlequin ($17.95).
They conceived of the book format before moving to videos, but given Sheppard's background – he did postgraduate work in film at Columbia University, and has directed music videos for Big Spoon and Sebastien Grainger and the Mountains – the YouTube platform seemed a more logical initial leap. The video format was also, at the time, novel. "Nobody had done that before," says Sheppard, 29. "They would remain on the Internet and they were in the exact spirit of the Twitter feed."
Similarly, for the book, Humphrey, who is 26, says he and Sheppard did not simply want to paste still photographs from the videos between hard covers. "We wanted to find phrases we could find interesting visually, and form a chain of phrases that could work as mini-chapters."
The line "What are you doing this weekend?" is accompanied by a photograph of a pile of cardboard boxes – for moving. The line "I'm just in a weird mood" appears in a shot of a woman (Sheppard) with a hot-water bottle lying on her stomach.
During the book's preparation, the two men spent an entire month in a photo studio, eating and sleeping there, too. "It was pretty intense," says Humphrey.
Indeed, they say, the cottage industry of SGS has now pretty well taken over their lives – but not unhappily.
Of course, Humphrey and Sheppard aren't authentic pioneers in the world of Sh*t Somebody Says, a sprawling subcultural microsubdivision of the Internet. That distinction is properly draped around American comedy writer Justin Halpern, who staked out the original Twitterstead with Sh*t My Dad Says in 2009.
Halpern, who maintains a league-leading Twitter following of more than three million, deftly turned his dad into an enviable income stream with a book (it merely soared to the top of The New York Times bestseller list) and, briefly, a CBS series. Apparently, parents can be useful after all.
But what works for dads and young women also seems to work for endlessly proliferating subsets. The non-exhaustive list now includes black girls, Asian girls, gay girls, single girls, white girls, monks, black parents, yogis, guys, gay guys, black guys, frat guys, Arab guys, and, lest we forget, the chronicles of Siri, the "personal assistant" for an Apple iPhone operating system.
Some critics, including former Globe and Mail columnist Lynn Crosbie, have voiced reservations about Sheppard and Humphrey's meme. While acknowledging its "eerily accurate dispatches from the world of girl talk," Crosbie called the Twitter feed irritating. Others have labelled it a demeaning, blatantly sexist exercise in stereotyping.
But to judge by the comments of their Twitter followers, that's a minority opinion. "We've never thought of this character as a ditzy character," insists Sheppard. "And we don't think anybody who uses these phrases is less intelligent. The response from our families and friends, people who use these phrases, has been overwhelmingly positive."
"We love these girls," adds Humphrey, "and all of these phrases come from a loving place. It wasn't and isn't meant to be derogatory."
Partners for two years in life as well as in tweeting – they met at Hot Nuts, a drag night at a Queen Street West bar – the two men say they'd been Twitter followers of the bons mots of more than a few comedians. So when they realized that their original tweet – "Can you pass me that blanket?" – was a funnyish, girly-like thing to say, and eminently Twitter-worthy, they were launched.
They weren't an overnight viral sensation; it wasn't until the pop-culture website BuzzFeed mentioned them a month later that they noticed a spike in Twitter traffic. Even then, three months after opening the account, they had netted only 6,879 followers.
Since then, however, growth has been exponential. They now have assembled a Tweet archive of some 750 phrases, many of them suggested by friends and family members.
"The beauty of Twitter is that people get to share them and submit," says Humphrey. "We're always listening."
What's the meme's next wardrobe change? They aren't sure, but as one of the tweets included in the book reminds us "Life is about the journey, not a destination."