Dean Shareski started it! (And that's a good thing.)
In his post It’s Not Really PD, Dean says about the (mis)use of the term 'Professional Development' ('PD') to describe an event:

“I guess we butcher our language all the time. Using the word “awesome” to describe a great sandwich as well as the beauty of a sunset. Or the word “love” to talk about our favorite app and the relationship we have with family. I get it, and I do it all the time as well. The problem is the words may not matter much among friends who understand what we mean but to share it with those not close to us sometimes the words fail miserably.”

I remember quoting Andy Hargreaves who said, “Start terrorist cells of innovation in your schools, then get them talking to each other“. Having read, 'The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations', I totally understood his connection to small independent groups of people working together in a way a large organization couldn't. However, I received a twitter comment from an educator in Israel, and given her context, this was not an idea she could get excited about. The idea of 'Terrorist cells of innovation' simply doesn't create the positive impression that it should… The words fail miserably.

Going back to Dean's post, a conversation started on twitter about implementing meaningful change. Kelly Christopherson (see his post response to Dean's post mentiond above), @kwhobbes, said “…we want to dev teachers' passions which then leads to growth. Overwhelming them with “stuff” isn't working”. To which Jacques Cool, @zecool, said “Show them the passion” – What I've been doing since 2011 (keynotes) 2008 (Twitter) 2004 (blog)!” Followed by, “It's very gratifying to be contagious, as says…” This led to the conversation shared in the image below:

Synopsis of the conversation: We are stuck using language like 'contagious' and 'virus' (or 'viral') to describe the positive spread of ideas and themes. I asked Bruce Wellman, @BruceWellman, for alternatives that don't have such negative connotations and he suggested the idea of memes.

memes plural of meme (Noun)


  1. An element of a culture or behavior that may be passed from one individual to another by nongenetic means, esp. imitation.
  2. An image, video, etc. that is passed electronically from one Internet user to another.

That's when I suggested a new word: Memidemic



A widespread occurrence of a good idea in a community at a particular time: “a passion memidemic”.
Of, relating to, or of the nature of a memidemic.
noun. meme-acious
adjective. memidemical

This is a continuation of I theme I've brought up a few times on my blog. The idea raised by Lakoff & Johnson that the Metaphors We Live By define us:

The now-classic Metaphors We Live By changed our understanding of metaphor and its role in language and the mind. Metaphor, the authors explain, is a fundamental mechanism of mind, one that allows us to use what we know about our physical and social experience to provide understanding of countless other subjects. Because such metaphors structure our most basic understandings of our experience, they are “metaphors we live by”—metaphors that can shape our perceptions and actions without our ever noticing them. (Amazon)

I don't think memidemic will catch on, but I do think that we can, and should, think about creating positive metaphors, disregarding words associated with contagion and plague to describe the positive dissemination of ideas. Let's (re)define the good things we are doing and creating with 'enlightening' metaphors.

13 comments on “Positively Memidemic

  1. As one who’s been infected, I know what it’s like when systems battle back against an infection. Sometimes it isn’t pretty… When I’ve been lucky enough to meet, dine and speak with similarly viral colleagues, it’s helped me in building enough resistance to keeping up the fight. Happy to be a small cell within a modernizing ‘mimedic’.

    1. Rodd, you’d love Lakoff & Johnson’s book. Even the choice of the word (and metaphor) of ‘battle’ is one that they address. That and ‘argument’ which our culture views as a battle as opposed to persuasion… The ‘metaphors we live by’ really do influence us in some very interesting ways.
      Ps. Are you around Toronto Monday night? I’m wondering if we could meet/tweet up?

  2. My musings on the above.

    David, I catch a sense from your last paragraph that you don’t think yet another morsel of terminology will pass the taste test. I understand this, and concur. If words are indeed conceptual building blocks then new ones imply a conceptual shift, (understandably) overwhelming for teachers just trying to get through the day.

    Historically speaking, “institutional” change has come about through both mentors and muses. I’d propose that the former promoted an evolution in thought, while the latter brought about transformational change. We need both. While most educational leaders have been “schooled” by those upon whose shoulders they stand, the truly transformational ones have been inwardly inspired. I don’t personally ascribe to a belief in muses as ethereal personas, but rather as “convenient” foils for the criticism that will surely and necessarily follow. Nevertheless, I think we need to acknowledge that the profession development requires that each teacher should be able to identify both their instructive technology mentors and the direction they have from their inner muse.

    So, the question needs to be asked of each educator who their mentors are and how have they influenced their practice. And, as one engaged in the art of teaching, what are their “inner musings” and the resulting impact. As with any other institution, the evolution of schooling depends upon those transformational educators subsequently becoming both the mentors and the inspiration for others. The twittersphere and blogs are just two of many new “mediums” through which we can hear the whispers of both change and potential. Inspirational mentors are not hard to find on your blog David. How about a blog on mentors and muses David? Do you think this language is more likely to “catch on?”

    1. A very deep comment Gord, and perhaps one that does indeed need a post response rather than a comment. My main issue with ‘mentors and muses’ is that although by definition I think ‘muse’ is an ideal word, by understanding I think it is perceived as ‘trivial’.
      One more thought, you said,
      “Historically speaking, “institutional” change has come about through both mentors and muses. I’d propose that the former promoted an evolution in thought, while the latter brought about transformational change. We need both.”
      However, I have mentors from all over the world that are inspiring transformational change… (You included when I finally take the leap and guide some students through some truly immersive learning!)
      Historical patterns of learning, mentorship and leadership are being transformed as well. The challenge now is that habits and ritual often protect old ways of doing things long after usefulness and purpose are lost.
      Getting back to the language we use, I think new words serve a valuable purpose because they erase preconceptions and make new habits easier. There is a fundamental difference between ‘looking up the answer’ and ‘Googling it’!

      1. Most kind words David. I would argue that a mentor who transforms how one thinks has become a muse. However, I’ll not argue against your point for the usefulness of new terminology. I shudder every time I hear someone talk about using “digital or virtual classrooms.” Similarly, I don’t think “21st Century Education” applies to 98% of what it is ascribed to. The advantage of your memidemic terminology is that it is not a title that can be easily misused. Something is or isn’t catchy. At the same time, there’s no value attached either. Something can be very catchy and not be good. In fact, just to end as I began, I’d suggest that many (if not most) catchy things in education can be so for unfortunate reasons. (There is a long list here that would likely to offend many.) I’m thinking you want terminology that implies not simply a mutation of what’s gone before, but signifies a profound change spawned within a cybercrucible. What about “memimorphosis.” While this implies an evolved creation, it still avoids imputing a positive conclusion (as it’s truly history’s role to preface it as a “positive memimorphosis” or not). Hope these observations have been constructive. : )

        1. Should’ve added that anything that achieves the status of having gone through the process of memimorphosis would subsequently be memimorphic. See you again.

        2. Gord, the ‘richness’ of both your thoughts and your language are excellent! Just look at this sentence:

          “I’m thinking you want terminology that implies not simply a mutation of what’s gone before, but signifies a profound change spawned within a cybercrucible.”

          Where would we be without such beautiful, metaphorical language?

          With any word, it is often the contextual use, rather than the definition that seems to really matter. That said, I have a keen interest in my own personal word use, and the direction you have taken memidemic (and subsequently memimorphosis & memimorphic) appeals to me considerably. Thanks for jumping in and making this a bigger splash that it possibly could have been without your contribution!

  3. You’re last line captures it all. “Let’s (re)define the good things we are doing and creating with ‘enlightening’ metaphors.”

    Change agents, teachers, principals, communities who can’t bear the thought that the good things they do/witness stay largely unknown to others…

    That’s why I see 70% of our NB franco community schools telling their stories of success (success measured largely in terms of learning) using social media (just crunched these numbers yesterday)… Heck, most tools used by them were blocked a few short years ago!

    That’s why grade 5 teacher Kevin Ouellette from St. Antoine NB, this year’s recipient of the CEA Ken Spencer Award for Innovation in Education, started his acceptance speech with a Sir Ken ‘shocking’ affirmation about the sad state of schools and learning and how those few (but incisive) lines helped transform his view on teaching and learning in irreversible ways.

    That’s what makes Seth Godin’s short but to-the-point writings what they are.

    Engaging. Clear. Not-so-nebulous-as-some-might-think-they-are metaphors. Those that hit home because we see ourselves (and our organizations) through them.

    And the urgency of telling stories, our stories: a teacher’s reflective blog, a child digital storytelling creation, a leader’s concise road map to organizational transformation, a proud community showing the world what they’ve accomplished via their posted video. Just like David Warlick said about the need for “telling compelling stories”…

    “A widespread occurrence of a good idea in a community at a particular time.” Yup. NOW I’ve caught the true sense of memidemic. Thanks to all and to you, David.

    Movin’ on!

    1. Jacques, I think I will be quoting this wonderful comment in the future!

      Have you seen Dean Shareski on:
      Becoming a Narrative Champion:
      The Moral Imperative to Share:

      Those themes resonated enough with me that you’ll see them in my Transforming Education presentation:

      It truly is an exciting time to be in education, and that needs to be the prevailing message (and myth) of our time.
      Thanks for helping to inspire this conversation!

  4. Hello David (and everyone mentioned in this blogpost….there’s a lot!),

    It’s a sign of the changing times and the shifting of paradigms (WAIT, it just twigged on me that your pair of dimes is actually paradigms?! Is that right? That just hit me like a lightning bolt lol!), that we struggle to describe things with the vocabulary we currently have. We struggle to find the right words to describe new constructs so we then have to invent new ones.

    Don’t forget the variant “Memidemic Effect” , then. You can have a “Memidemic” (the dissemination) but it’s the effect that lingers afterwards and hopefully lasts long enough to effect solid change, that we’re after. That begs the question (and invites a blogpost about): What exactly is the “Memidemic Effect”? : increased passion? increased desire for personal learning? more joy? more strength to do our jobs? I can’t really say since I’m not doing the word-smithing… but I think that it’s got to include the joy, merriment and smiles from Dean’s video. Who wouldn’t want a piece of joy? Who can hold back joy from disseminating, replicating? I think it’s joy that starts a Passion Memidemic. 🙂


    1. Sending some ‘paradigms’ your way ‘for your thoughts’ Vivian:)
      It’s funny how that is blatantly obvious to some and a surprise to others… Like an image that can be seen one of two ways, but seldom both ways unless triggered externally. That is the beauty of a metaphor too, although I think we tend to over-explain our metaphors rather than letting them ruminate and simmer in the stew of our minds. An explained metaphor never tastes as good.
      Funny that you claim not to be the one word-smithing and yet you have come up with the “Memidemic Effect”. I’ll leave a challenge with you that the blog post you mention to elaborate on this idea actually belongs to you! Are you up for the challenge?

  5. Hello David,

    Good thing your blog isn’t called “penny for your thoughts” as they’re phasing out the penny now! (Hmm…”Loonie for your thoughts” could be problematic too!)

    I don’t know if you took the time to read the link attached to my reply, above. I worked on “word-smithing” the term “Coetail Effect” which was a very real experience for our Coetail cohort. The link is to my blogpost about what I came up with. (The definition I came up is not any official definition, just to clarify. )

    Well, I have an idea of what you mean by “memidemic” but I don’t feel quite qualified to speak on behalf of all of you–just yet. I hope to, one day, be one of the matches that strike a start of one, in a school. 🙂 When that day comes, I’ll blog about it and be able to flesh out the definition because I would have lived it first-hand. You’ll be the first to hear about the blogpost! 🙂

    I love puns, play on words, silly witticisms. How can I not love the thought of inventing new words? New words strip away old assumptions and make us think and decide which parts are truthful and worth preserving and which parts were just things we took along for the ride, out of habit/tradition. The new words may eventually become jargon and then old-jargon and then be thrown out or even die-out in a new generation. That’s the nature of language though. It is a living organism. The birth, ageing, and death of it is a natural cycle. It shouldn’t mean that if we know it will age, grow old, and die that we don’t bother with the birth part of it (as messy as it is). It serves a function while it’s living and let’s not over-look the value of its function for its time.

    Honestly, I still don’t get the difference between projects and project-based learning. I’ve done some reading about it and some of it was rather contradictory. There’s lots of shouting about it in my PLN….but SHHH…I still don’t “get” it. BUT …at least I know I have to think critically about this question the next time I propose a project. That’s got to be worth something! It’s a start to raising the bar instead of doing the same thing again, thinking we’re feasting at a banquet when we’re really eating the crumbs.

    As someone who has had to work in several languages at various points of her life (7 of them!), I am well-acquainted with the frustrations of trying to explain something in a language where that word doesn’t exist. I’ll be mid-sentence and realize I can’t finish my sentence in the same language. It’s frustrating as I feel that the person I’m speaking to is missing out since they don’t have the word and I can’t finish my explanation after all. It sort of “fizzles” out when I try to piece together a string of words as a substitute for that single word… The effect is not the same. The person has already dismissed my point because he/she figures that it can’t be that important—there’s no word for it in his/her language!!

    I know implicitly that because the word doesn’t exist in that language that the idea or concept behind the word doesn’t exist for them and if it does, it’s not very valued.

    Yes, you are very correct when you say our words and our metaphors shape the way we see the world. There’s a word in Chinese ?. It is pronounced “ching”. It means the colour green OR blue. How can a single word mean two colours? I think it’s a great word to describe the sea. It’s not blue and it’s not green. It’s not turquoise. It’s “ching” –meaning it floats back and forth between blue and green in a translucent fashion in our eyes. The word has poetic undertones that the word “blue-green” doesn’t have in English. So, I wonder about the difference in experience looking at the sea between someone who has that word in his/her vocabulary and someone who doesn’t? The next time you look at the Pacific Ocean, you’ll see it as “ching”… 🙂

    Here’s another: In the English language, there is no term for parents who have lost a child. We have the words orphan, widow, widower. Why not a term for those parents? Is it because it’s so terrible we are afraid to give it a name? Or, is it because we assume that such a thing doesn’t exist? Whatever the reason, what a far-reaching effect it must have on those people who have an identity that is literally “unspeakable” and have not been given the tools to speak about who they are.

    As teachers, we are experiencing profound things on a spiritual level as we are being given permission to shed all the extraneous and damaging things that have been done in the name of education. This is a spiritual experience. It hits the heart of who we were as children, hits our heart in our places as parents, hits our hearts as educators who stand in the gap for children as we are their “parents” too.

    It is a spiritual experience doing so (Tech is just the best way for us to get there, at this point in history!) and so we struggle to explain it using words because it is a phenomena experienced at the “heart” and spirit level and not at the linguistic level.

    The difference between the past and now is that we can experience this collectively because of the internet and those connections that transcend time and space. In prior times, we probably thought we were the one odd-ball in the entire world and would even try to hide our real thoughts and feelings for fear of being ridiculed for our passion. Now, we are validated for who we are, each time we read our Twitter timelines or read a blogpost from our PLN –to discover we’re not the only ones crazy about making a difference! Moreover, we are being encouraged in our “oddity”. That’s a huge change and an extraordinary thing for all of us, that couldn’t have happened without the internet and our PLNs. We want everyone to catch it, now! Eat at the banquet table with us! That’s what I think your “spreading of the passion” must mean.

    (I’ll pass on the corn-wrapped bacon though. The French word for bacon is “lard” and ever since I saw that label in the grocery store in Switzerland, I can’t face eating any more of it! 😉 <— the power of labels!

    It's so hard to put linguistic handles on things that happen on the heart level. Dean mentioned the one-size fits all use of the word "love" in English. Maybe we gave up on trying to explain it, as it seemed just too much to attempt and therefore we settled for the single word.

    I'm not too sure if putting linguistic handles on deeply spiritual things will be enough to explain it for those peering through the playground fence at us. It's a start though. At least they know that there is something more "out there" now because people are doing happy dances about it. It will catch. Who doesn't want a piece of joy? Joy is being in the place of who you are and doing what you were called to do. …doing the thing that you can't NOT do 🙂 So, let's press-on with all of that. It's really all we can do but it is enough.

    There is a separation between those that see teaching as a job/vocation and those that see it as a "calling". We're trying to open their eyes to the "calling" part. If this isn't proof that it's a spiritual thing we're talking about, I don't know what would be. I'm so thankful for the community of teachers on Twitter who see it as their "calling" too.

    Though your blogpost is a light-hearted look at how we can spread the passion better, the underlying message is very real and very serious: The challenge of making someone see and want something they don't know exists yet. I get that. 🙂


    (There's no word in Chinese for "goodbye". We can only say "See you again". Meditate on what THAT might imply! 🙂

    1. Vivian,
      I ‘LOVE’ (no, not the best word, I know) your comment! Being someone that lived in a city of 6 million in China with a small expat community and very little English spoken (and a woeful ability to learn a second language), I have often wished I could appreciate the challenges of translation when the words don’t match. I think a real understanding of this can actually strengthen your ability to communicate… Like Paulo Coelho, who seems too have a gift for expressing himself in English that I think he would lack if it were his first language. Related: You might like my ‘Slowly by Slowly’ post

      I could speak about so many things in your comment, but I’ll focus on this… You said,

      “There is a separation between those that see teaching as a job/vocation and those that see it as a “calling”. We’re trying to open their eyes to the “calling” part. If this isn’t proof that it’s a spiritual thing we’re talking about, I don’t know what would be. I’m so thankful for the community of teachers on Twitter who see it as their “calling” too.”

      Which, in keeping with the focus of your comment, begs for a word for this. I’m often straddling two ideas when I use the term PLN.
      Is it: PERSONAL Learning Network?
      Or is it: PROFESSIONAL Learning Network?

      For me it is equally both! What word do I use to describe that? I’m done word-smithing (for now, the creative juices just aren’t flowing), but I’d say that there isn’t a word that says both of these, and that the two are now intricately connected via a passion for what I ‘do’ as an educator (what I do for my “calling” as you describe it).

      I’ll leave that there to stew for a while… And on the topic of food, (for though or otherwise), the barbecued bacon-wrapped corn was delicious! After the bacon is cooked, it is put on the top rack of the BBQ for a few more minutes and most of the fat drips away. Let go your preconceived impressions and give it a try!
      Thanks again for such a thought-provoking comment,

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