Bard Day celebration offers much to read about

It’s Shakespeare’s 450th birthday, more or less, and all of Twitter is a stage for stories about the immortal one.

There is no time for me to read of Shakespeare morning until night, so I created a list of links pulled from Twitter today for your leisurely reading enjoyment, The first one is my own, so I may be a poor jurist. But all the others I have read or intend to read.

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ACES 2014 National Grammar Day Tweeted Haiku Contest entries

A little bit of what I’ve learned on Twitter

The following column originally appeared on in two parts. As I have no space limitations, here it is in its entirety for your convenience.

The first part is here:

And here is the second part:


Twitter is technically simple, but conceptually difficult. When I started, I tweeted useful tips and followed people who I thought might be interested. Eventually, I started following people I thought were interesting. It took me a long time to understand that people talking to me weren’t necessarily talking to everybody and that when I said something, people weren’t necessarily listening. I think I’ve experienced all the Twitter epiphanies, but it took me a long time.

The copyeditors I know who don’t use Twitter often say they simply don’t have time for it, that Facebook is enough of a time suck. Well, sure, you don’t have to be on Twitter. There are email lists and Facebook groups that provide a great deal of support. And my understanding is that some of us still work in offices next to other copyeditors.

Twitter has space and privacy limitations that are less of an issue on other platforms. But because of its immediacy and the breadth of knowledge available, Twitter is my first point of contact with other copyeditors. And if I spend quite a bit of time there, it’s a brief distraction many times a day rather than a scheduled activity. I never think of it as a time commitment because I have it on all the time.

I offer below @EditorMark’s Tips for Twitter:

1. Know what you want. There are three general motivations for setting up a Twitter account: marketing, learning, and engaging. Unless you are a recognizable brand or pay Twitter for placement, marketing is going to come as an outgrowth of engaging. Learning is usually the last motivation, but it’s Twitter’s greatest strength. And it’s easy: Just pick the people you are interested in and listen. Engaging enhances learning and marketing.

2. Present yourself. You have limited space for a Twitter bio, so consider how you want people to know you. You probably don’t need to waste precious space telling us that your opinions are not those of your employer or that retweets do not equal endorsements. We wouldn’t mind if you told us a little about you beyond your adroitness with a red pen. And a photo shows you are a real person. It’s not necessary, but it helps. Think of it as the quick go-around-the-room in a group meeting: This is who you are, what you’re after, and what we might find interesting about you.

3. Follow the right people. If you want to engage in a conversation, you need to be the one to start it. If you’re at a party alone, it’s no good sitting quietly and avoiding eye contact. Get in there and mingle. Start by following people who share your interest in copyediting. Twitter is great with suggestions. And someone who shares your interests likely is following others who share your interests.

4. Learn the conventions. Twitter has evolved in ways even its creators didn’t anticipate. It’s no longer what you had for breakfast and where you’re going to lunch. Retweet that which interests you, but don’t go mad. Use hashtags that make sense, but sparingly. Comment on other people’s tweets if you have something to add to the conversation. Don’t be offended if no one responds—that doesn’t mean they’re not listening.

5. Engage. The Twitter app on my phone alerts me when someone mentions me in a tweet. The Tweetdeck application on my computers also gives me alerts when anyone comments in certain lists I’ve set up. It’s not hard to have them in the background. Twitter is largely a real-time conversation. You can open it up once a day after dinner and scroll back, but that’s not the most effective method. When you do engage, have something to say. This isn’t a requirement—you can tweet your Foursquare check-ins or weight-loss milestones. But others will turn their attention elsewhere.

6. Stick with it. When you start on Twitter, you’re walking into an empty room. The first time you say something, there is an excellent chance that no one is listening. Your first tweet might as well be your favorite yodel. Most first tweets are something like “Well, I guess it’s time for me to join Twitter” or “Is this thing on?” Growth is slow and steady, but that’s true in most any social situation. Give people time to get to know you and get to know them. After a few weeks, you’ll think yourself an expert. After a few months, you will be one.


If someone says eye-licking is causing infections, check it out

I wrote a blog entry for Copyediting about the failure of a reporter and editors at the Guardian to check the sources on a story about a newly popular eye-licking fetish causing an increase in eye infections in Japan. The fetish exists, though it’s hard to tell how prevalent it is.

But the story’s news peg, the increase in eye infections, is not supported. The story was posted in June, and the mea culpa by the Guardian’s readers’ editor came on Sunday.

I suggested in my column for Copyediting that the reporter or a copy editor ought to have dug a bit to verify the story. What I didn’t say because of space considerations was that getting to the source took me less than 10 minutes.

The reporter, Stuart Heritage, said he spent his time checking to see if the trend was real on Tumblr and YouTube, but failed to check into the alleged medical result. The story appeared on the with Guardian’s blog Shortcuts under the headline “Eyeball-licking: the fetish that is making Japanese teenagers sick.”

In Sunday’s Guardian piece, Heritage mentions one source as an article in the Huffington Post, which in turn uses the Daily Caller as a source. The Daily Caller attributes the story “to a teacher’s anecdote” on Shaghaiist, a website of the aggregator, Gothamist. The unbylined story on Shanghaiist refers to a Japanese-language blog in which a teacher writes about witnessing eyeball-licking. The only mentions of the spread of infections is a warning that it could happen and a headline that suggests that it is happening.

Heritage also cites an article on the website of the London-based National Student. That article also makes no claims about an increase in infections, but the writer interviews two experts who warn that eye infections are possible.

In checking Tumblr and YouTube, Heritage focused on the real reason for the story. It wasn’t a news story about an increase in Japanese eye infections. It was a chance to put “eyeball-licking” on a web page and boost pageviews.

The story made me think of advice from JK Rowling in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Mr. Weasley tells his daughter, Ginny: “Never trust anything that can think for itself if you can’t see where it keeps its brain.”

Never trust a claim in a news story if you can’t see who is making the claim.

I say that discovering the lack of foundation for this story took me less than 10 minutes. Sadly, with less and less attention paid to quality editing, 10 minutes is a luxury some reporters and editors don’t have.

That being said, the story was up for two months.

I don’t equate the Guardian with CNN with the Onion, but the Onion had a wonderful parody explanation of CNN’s Miley Cyrus coverage on Tuesday. Take a look and see if it doesn’t sound plausible.

Habitat for Humanity house is a fitting tribute to a nice guy

My plan was to drive back to Grand Rapids, Mich., today and spend Saturday pounding nails and raising walls on a Habitat for Humanity home. But I’m not over a stomach bug that has been bothering me for a week now. I can’t risk making someone else sick, so I’ve sent my regrets, bitterly disappointed that I won’t be able to pay such a fitting tribute to my old boss and friend, Andy Angelo.

Andy died last summer, much earlier than he should have, because of asthma. He was metro editor at the Grand Rapids Press when I started, and he became my supervisor as news editor. He brought out the best in those who worked under him by working harder than any of us and caring deeply about the news that was delivered to people’s homes every day. He was a journalist who could remind us what journalism is all about. He also was a friend, caring about our comfort and happiness at work and at home, always willing to lend a hand professionally or personally.

The House that Andy Built is a testament to Andy’s willingness to help out wherever he could. Dozens of former colleagues, friends and family members are building a Habitat house on Grandville Avenue SW, near the community arts center. Andy helped his wife, Mary, create that neighborhood center, and he served on the board.

In 2010, Andy’s assistant news editor and I nominated Andy for the Robinson Prize, an honor the American Copy Editors Society gives to an outstanding copy editor each year. His selection gave me a chance to spend some time with him and Mary again at the annual conference in Phoenix in March, 2011. His acceptance speech was spontaneous and touching, and, for Andy, predictable. He spoke of the young people he sat with at the banquet and how they gave him confidence in the future of the craft.

At the hotel lobby bar afterward, Andy bought drinks and, unusual for Andy, reveled in a bit of recognition. He was happy, and if you’ll forgive my lack of humility, I felt wonderful knowing I played a part in connecting such a worthy person with the recognition he deserved.

Those working hard at 661 Grandville Avenue SW will have that same feeling. Andy touched many, many people, and only the most jaded among us could fail to be moved by the opportunity to give something back and to contribute to the ideals he exemplified.

I write this partly as a way to vent my frustration, partly as a way to honor Andy, since I’m unable to do so with sinew and sweat. If you are moved to contribute in a small way, the House that Andy Built is accepting donations. If you believe in the power of a nice guy to make a difference in the world, this is an appropriate way to reinforce that belief for others. The world could use a few more Andy Angelos.

The donation page for Habitat for Humanity of Kent County is here: Under the drop down menu, select “Andy’s House.”

The youth news bureau at Grandville Avenue Arts and Humanities renamed itself the Andy Angelo Press Club. In March, some of its young reporters took a look at Andy. Here is the result:

Here is the story I wrote for the ACES website after Andy’s death:

Here is the Facebook page for the House that Andy Built, which I hope will have photos of Saturday’s build:

More from me at the Copyediting newsletter blog

More from me at the Copyediting newsletter blog

I’ve joined the blog team at Copyediting newsletter, so I’ll be posting there regularly and here maybe not as much. But I’ll try to add a link to those that are of interest, which I hope will be all of them.

Today, I wrote about my lifelong confusion about the rules of cricket and a cricket-related correction in the New York Times.

An excerpt:

I was probably not yet 10 when I told a family friend visiting from England that I could not fathom the rules of cricket. The next 15 minutes were consumed with a detailed explanation of wickets, stumps, overs, and silly mid-offs that made me somewhat the wiser until the waiter brought my chicken and I forgot all that I had learned.

I have since read explanations of the game and watched amateurs play in a park, but what I manage to learn never stays. Cricket confounds my attempts to retain, like a dream just before waking. But I do know just enough about cricket to know I should never assume I know anything about cricket.

See the rest at

And please send me suggestions for things you’d like to see in future columns. Today’s is a sort of error-of-the-week format, so I’d love to hear about the brilliant saves or near-saves of other copy editors.

Made-up ‘rules’ may offer a path to clarity

Columnist and language expert Ben Yagoda resorted to all caps in a brief Twitter exchange on the difference (if any) between “since” and “because.”

“There is NEVER confusion,” he said several weeks ago during a chat sponsored by the American Copy Editors Society.

That was in response to my assertion that “because” remains safer than “since” where there may be confusion with a time element.

I tell my copy editing students to beware of absolutes in writing. Absolutes in all caps are especially risky. Yagoda offers a defense of his position in the Lingua Franca column in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

sincebecauseCopy editors, despite their best intentions, can come across as stuffy and pedantic because we sometimes perpetuate standards of English usage that may differ from the way people casually speak and write. “Because” vs. “since” provides a fair example. In the wild, “since” is used for “because” with aplomb and very few bar fights can be attributed to disputes over this usage. The distinction between “since” for time and “since” for cause is not something to fear, but I do think it is something to consider.

Sometimes in the debate between what is a real rule and what is a made-up rule (tricky, as there is no rulebook), we overlook the reality that “rule” can sometimes be shorthand for “good writing.”

I will grant that there is no “rule” of grammar that says “since” should be restricted to time elements and “because” used for causation. Blindly substituting can take away nuance and make writing more stilted. But there are cases where “because” is the safer choice.

In the Chronicle column, Yagoda suggests the example of confusion I offered was “ginned up.” My example was: “Europe suffered greatly since Hitler invaded Poland.” Yagoda said this “doesn’t sound like something that would actually be written.”

Well, no, probably not by a careful writer, which is the point. I disagree with his assertion that it wouldn’t be written in the temporal sense. He suggests “after” is more likely than “since” here. “After” might be better, but there is no shortage of examples of similar uses of the temporal “since.” A 1940 Montreal Gazette newspaper article speaks of “all losses suffered since Hitler invaded the Low Countries,” to mean “after” the invasion.

For causation, Yagoda suggests “as a result of” is more likely. But I can imagine the causal sense of “since” being so used in a high school or college history paper.

In historic terms, Europe suffered far more greatly after Hitler turned his attention from Poland. But one could suggest that after the invasion of Poland and because of the ensuing declarations of war, Europe suffered. “Since,” then, works in either the temporal or causal sense.

So, I do think my example works, but there are better examples. Yagoda takes issue with the response from Erin Brenner, the editor of Copyediting Newsletter. Brenner, who was the guest of the ACES chat, offered a much better rebuttal than mine to the assertion that “there is NEVER confusion.”

Brenner tweeted “Since he went out, I’ve been chatting.”

Yagoda suggests the ambiguity there is desirable. Literary ambiguity can be desirable, except in cases when ambiguity is not desirable. Saying confusion is a good thing is not a strong defense of the assertion that there is never confusion.

One more good example comes from Bryan Garner, author of “Garner’s Modern American Usage.” Yagoda cites Garner, who writes in his entry for “since”: “Despite the canard that the word properly relates only to time, the causal meaning has existed continuously in the English language for more than a thousand years.”

But Garner also goes on to say “be careful, though, of starting a sentence with since and then using a past-tense example.

Garner’s example, from the Sporting News: “Since Memphis exposed Louisville’s main weakness … the Cards have struggled.” Garner writes: “the reader wonders, at least momentarily, whether the Cards have suffered because of or just after the upset.”

So, Garner, the prescriptivist, says there is no rule, but be cautious where there might be confusion.

The lack of confusion is the goal of good writing and good copy editing. Even in cases where the meaning is clear enough, we don’t want the reader to wonder even momentarily which meaning we’re going for. It’s not always about rules, but it is about good writing.

Here are the winning winners in the Tweeted Haiku Contest

Arika Okrent’s 17 syllables captured the hearts of the judges, but there were scores of worthy entries in the National Grammar Day Tweeted Haiku Contest. The initial screening of 269 entries down to the top 10 resulted in 17 possibilities, and then judges asked to add another 11 back to the mix.

The five-judge panel then went into seclusion in the virtual grammar conclave for most of Sunday before they emerged with a winner, four runners up, and a mess of honorable mentions.

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arika okrent / the judges loudly proclaim / winning haikuist

Arika Okrent tapped into a universal feeling of realization and dread when she wrote her winning entry for the 2013 National Grammar Day Tweeted Haiku Contest:

arika-okrentI am an error
And I will reveal myself
After you press send

Soon after, she tweeted an amendment:

Make that “send”

“It became a self-fulfilling haiku,” Okrent said. “I wish I could say I planned it that way.”

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Funny, but it’s still rock ‘n’ roll to me

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (small)

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (small) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve been tweeting in lieu of blogging lately, but sometimes a matter deserves more attention than a string of related tweets. Such is the case with “rock ‘n’ roll.” Dictionaries and style guides differ on how to write a colloquial expression written informally for 60 years or more. “Rock and roll” seems fine and formal, but “rock ‘n’ roll” appears to be the more common form.

Even in the 1950s, it was rendered as “rock ‘n’ roll” as often or more often than “rock and roll,” according to Google Books data. Take a look here:

The Associated Press Stylebook prefers “rock ‘n’ roll,” but points out that it’s the “Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.” The New York Times agrees with “rock ‘n’ roll,” as does Yahoo! and the Better Homes and Gardens style guide (everyone seems to have an opinion). Style for Britain’s Guardian newspaper is rock’n’roll, no spaces. National Geographic says “rock-and-roll.”

The American Heritage Dictionary gives “rock-and-roll” as its first spelling. Merriam-Webster Unabridged calls “rock and roll” a variant of “rock ‘n’ roll.” Merriam-Webster Collegiate calls “rock ‘n’ roll” a variant of “rock and roll.”

The Oxford English Dictionary has “rock and roll” references going back to 1939, but that was something else. As with many good phrases, the better use came later. Early references from the 1950s in the OED vary, and include the spelling  “rock ‘n roll” on an early (jazz) album sleeve. But let’s agree to avoid that; the second apostrophe serves a purpose.

Chicago Manual of Style suggests we make sure the first apostrophe in rock ‘n’ roll is truly an apostrophe and not a single open quote mark.

I remember copy editing a syndicated Dave Barry column that started with a note to editors. Not a note intended for publication, but an appeal to editors to keep his spelling, which I think was “rock and roll.” But there’s probably at least a 70 percent chance that I’m wrong on this.

Last word (for now) goes to Bryan A. Garner, who offers no clear advice other than the suggestion that “rock” has become so common, we probably don’t need to worry so much.

I may return to this post another day, so I’m happy to hear your insight into this important topic.

Allow me to dangle the winning haiku in front of you

Judging for the 2012 National Grammar Day Tweeted Haiku Contest was as difficult as any in the history of the event. Nearly 200 entries were submitted. The best way to get the full flavor of the event is to visit the Storify that contains them.

But save that for after the big announcement. Judges had a clear favorite:

Being a dangler,
Jane knew it would have to come
out of the sentence

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March forth and write haiku to celebrate National Grammar Day

Without grammar, your
haiku would fall to pieces.
I think I’ll tweet that.

The National Grammar Day Tweeted Haiku Contest is back. Nearly 180 poems were entered into last year’s contest. They were brilliant. Even picking the best 10 was very difficult. But, National Grammar Day falls on a Sunday this year, so the organizers decided they could handle having another go at it.

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Don’t discount the editor when the focus is ‘online-first’

Newspapers have been quick to tell us about the latest trends and help us prepare for a changing world. But they’ve been amazingly slow to recognize the changes that are necessary to remain relevant. And now, as newspapers finally enter the 21st century, “online-first” operations risk losing what made them great in the first place: the trust of the communities they serve.

I hope that the successor to Booth Newspapers in Michigan can combine an online focus with a newspaper’s commitment to truth and accuracy. I’m watching with interest as my former colleagues transition to new roles with MLive Media Group, the statewide news operation that has veteran journalists focusing on delivering the latest news online.

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I don’t know why you say ‘good-bye’

I’d like to say goodbye to “good-bye.”

The unhyphenated “goodbye” gets nearly five times as many Google hits. “Goodbye” is the preferred spelling in the Associated Press Stylebook. The American Heritage and Webster’s New World dictionaries list goodbye as the first spelling. Bryan Garner in “Garner’s Modern American Usage,” compares the hyphenated form to the archaic “to-day.”

Merriam-Webster, though, includes only “good-bye” and “good-by.” Many style guides, including the Chicago Manual of Style, prefer a Merriam-Webster dictionary, so “good-bye” is with us for now.

The word in any form is only a few hundred years old, stemming from the earlier “good morning” and “good day,” etc., and a shortening of the phrase “God be with you.”

Addendum (May 26, 2013):

Merriam-Webster’s newest dictionary, the Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, has no hyphens in its entry for “goodbye,” giving only the “goodby” variant. I would guess we’ll see the hyphen slip away in the new online Unabridged at some point soon.


Everyone said it’s easy. I was up late trying to figure out how to include all my website information in one place, and I failed. Or at least fell asleep. All I succeeded in doing was transferring the URL to my blog, so my site exists only on a hidden server somewhere and on my hard drive.

If you are looking for, I hope to have my information back up here soon. If you need anything in the meantime, I’m at, 614-961-9666, @EditorMark on Twitter and (sometimes) copyeditor1 on Skype.

If you are looking for, my blog postings are all below.

If you are looking for my archive of tweeted tips, most of them also are on this site — I copied them to my blog when I reached about 500. Scroll down to find them.

Thanks for your patience.


Grammar Girl’s book for students is approachable, orange

Grammar was not my subject. In high school English class, we did a unit on grammar every semester. It always seemed to be the same thing to me. The work was either obvious (I could recite “Grammar Rock” with the best of them) or unnecessarily confusing (English is like that). The book we used seemed authoritative, but there just seemed to be more rules and guidelines in there than anyone could possibly know. There wasn’t, it turned out, but it seemed that way.

I might be decades behind the time in my perception of grammar textbooks, but the criteria I would use to judge are the level of detail (less is more), the level of intimidation, and the clarity of the rules listed.

My first impression of Mignon Fogarty’s new student grammar is that it’s very orange. It’s inescapably orange with a cover reminiscent of the old Chicago Manual of Style (now blue) and a matching orange inside for headings, examples and shading. Its title opts for bravado over brevity: “Grammar Girl Presents the Ultimate Writing Guide for Students.” It has cartoon drawings, most featuring the familiar Aardvark and Squiggly (a snail) of previous Grammar Girl books. We can give it points for lack of intimidation right away.

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Read this for free, and then feel free to use useful idioms

I strolled away from Google Plus to visit Twitter a few moments ago, and I pointed out that “for free” is criticized because “free” often works better in half the space. Usage guru Bill Walsh of the Washington Post pointed out that the real criticism is that “free” is not a noun, a more challenging argument.

The idiom forces “free” into the position of a noun, as if it is the same as “zero dollars” or “no pay.” It’s hard to reconcile, so it might always be considered nonstandard, or as Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage says, “not used in writing of high solemnity.”

But the phrase, apparently only decades old, is very widely used. Blind condemnation sometimes takes an understandable statement and exchanges it for something confusing.

“I worked for free” is more clear than “I worked free” or “I worked for nothing.” “It is impossible to live for free” is not the same as “it is impossible to live free.”

If the meaning doesn’t change, “free” is the better choice. But “for free” is too established and too useful to be disallowed.

Holiday’s name is self-evident: It’s the date on which it falls

You are free to parade, grill, engage in pyrotechnics, and otherwise celebrate Independence Day, but don’t feel it necessary to call it that.

The celebration of the nation’s birthday has the distinction of being the only official holiday named for a date rather than a person or event. There is a temptation to write it as the more descriptive and proper sounding “Independence Day,” but the holiday was originally known by the date on which it falls.

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AP doesn’t impose style; house style reflects readers

The best written works contain clarity, consistency and elegance. These are the goals of style books.

My first AP Stylebook was a 1976 edition acquired in 1979 when I started high school. I read every entry. I didn’t memorize it, but I at least knew where to look up whatever question I had. Over time, my knowledge of the book diminished rather than increased, but nowadays my online subscription means searching is just as fast as it was when I was 15.

Jojo Malig, an editor in Manilla, Philippines, wrote a column for the Poynter Institute’s website in which he asked several editors about the necessity of multiple style books, such as the Chicago Manual of Style and house style guides. I suggested that local style guides are an important supplement to the AP Stylebook or whatever style book a publication uses as its main guide.

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Favorite resources for freelance editors

This list of links was presented as a handout at the “Freelancers Forum” session at the American Copy Editors Society conference in Phoenix in March 2011. It was compiled by Mark Allen, Kate Karp and Liz Smith. It’s not intended to be exhaustive, but it represents some of our favorite places to find help when we are editing at home.

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Think like a plumber to spell ‘fluoride’ correctly

The “ou” spelling (loud, gout, rough) is more common than “uo,” especially when the combination forms just one syllable. Where this combination does appear, we sometimes struggle with the spelling.

If you tend to consult your toothpaste tube every time you have to spell “fluoride,” it might help to know that most words that start “flu” are related to the concept of “flow.” “Fluoride” comes from the element “fluorine,” from the Latin “fluor,” meaning “flowing.” “Fluor” was first applied to minerals useful as fluxes, a term familiar to anyone who has soldered a copper pipe. Flux (related to “fluctuation”) comes from the past participle form of the Latin “fluere,” which means “to flow.” The look of fluor-type minerals when exposed to ultraviolet light gives us the word “fluorescent.”

So, if you can associate the thing you find in toothpaste with the word “flux” (things may be “in flux,” a “flux capacitor” powered the time machine in “Back to the Future”), that might help you remember the spelling of “fluoride.” And “fluorescent.”

“Flu,” by the way, also related to “flow.” “Flu” is a shortening of “influenza,” which comes from “influence,” which had to do with astrology, or the effects that flowed from the stars.

I’m tempted to keep exploring the pathways I keep uncovering on this etymological journey, but I think it’s time I got back to work.

Fulsome: Whether full or foul, make sure meaning is clear

The word “fulsome” presents a problem that usage and etymology fail to sort out. It either means “abundant,” “offensive” or, perhaps as a compromise, “offensively abundant.” Dictionaries usually give at least the first two meanings while most usage guides insist on the third. The Associated Press Stylebook says “it means disgustingly excessive” and should not be used to mean “lavish or profuse.” The BBC News Styleguide says, probably incorrectly, that “fulsome is not a close relative of full, and does not mean generous.”

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Well formed haiku bring/National Grammar Day glory/tweet your best today

Dozens of 17-syllable poems have already been submitted for The National Grammar Day Tweeted Haiku Contest. Follow the Twitter hashtag #grammarday, the official hashtag of National Grammar Day.

Check them out here:

I’m hosting the haiku contest to help celebrate the binding principles of the English language. The top prize is a copy of “Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing,” by National Grammar Day host Mignon Fogarty, and your choice of a t-shirt or mug with my favorite piece of writing advice at my new Café Press shop:

For all our finalists, glory and accolades await.

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National day of grammar/send in your best poem/enjoy glory and prizes

Grammar, usage and style are what we use to hold language together so it appears with a sense of order and fulfills its basic function. The English language is alive and constantly changing. The rules either allow for flexibility or, after some struggle, change to fit the needs of the language. This change comes not from chaos but from order, and National Grammar Day celebrates our collective, ordered approach to the English language.

Haiku is a Japanese poetry form familiar to schoolchildren with a structure and style that  allows for flexibility. Strictly speaking, it should focus on nature or the seasons, but it often strays from convention. While critics might carefully count syllables, the point is not conformity but a sense of rhythm that produces a desired effect.

Twitter is a medium that allows quick communication of brief messages to those who have opted to hear what the writer has to say. It celebrates brevity and clarity of language in an era of verbosity.

To help celebrate the binding principles of the English language, I’m hosting a contest featuring the Japanese form of haiku through the medium of Twitter. The National Grammar Day Tweeted Haiku Contest will convey upon the winner the glory and immortality that comes with having his or her winning haiku permanently embedded in digital archives somewhere. Also, prizes.

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Parts of (a) sentence(s) sometimes must agree to disagree

Winston Churchill said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the other forms. Languages are produced democratically, and perhaps none remains more democratic than English. In other words, English is messy. It has conflicting rules about certain things and no rules where there really ought to be one.

If we had a language run by a benevolent oligarchy, we’d have a neutral third-person singular pronoun by now. We don’t. And for now, we just have to live with it.

Another case where our language fails us is in the awkwardness of linking an object to a plural subject, also known as subject-complement agreement. Should we refer to one object or multiple objects? This is a consistent question I get, and it always causes me to scratch my head.

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502 (give or take) short tips on grammar, usage, style

I started an almost-daily offering of a grammar, usage or style tip in April, 2009, and last week I tweeted my 500th tip. Here is my archive to date, which also can be found at my business website,

If you want a big gun, ask for a “cannon.” One “n” is for a law or principle, literary works, or a piece of music. The camera is Canon.

Mackinac Island is in the Straits of Mackinac, which link Lakes Huron and Michigan under the Mackinac Bridge. All are pronounced “Mackinaw.”

The coat, blanket and city are all Mackinaw. The word starts with the Ojibwe and comes through French Canadian, hence the pronunciation.

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Copy editors no longer need to keep paper books on hand

This column appeared in the September-October newsletter of the American Copy Editors Society.

I visited a transferring co-worker to wish her well and to see what I could liberate from her cube after she left. The pickings were slim, sadly, except for an impressive Random House Webster’s Unabridged. I considered how it would look in my cube, but I left empty-handed. My cubicle remains devoid of reference books.

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Sure, quality is key, but don’t forget quantity

Here is part two of my column on finding work as a freelancer, written several months after the first. It appeared in the American Copy Editors Society quarterly newsletter.

I love taking a look at a photographer’s contact sheets these days: scores of photos on a computer screen covering a couple of seconds of action. I used to say the secret to news photography was buying in bulk, rolling your own, and shooting enough to get lucky. Now, technology makes it even easier.

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Advice for new freelancers: Hang a card, talk to Kathy

This column appeared in newsletter of the American Copy Editors Society in early April. In the months after I wrote it, I’ve become more convinced there is a strong demand for good editing, and I have found myself busy with multiple projects in recent weeks. I followed up this column with more on the topic in the ACES newsletter that came out last month, and I’ll post that column soon.

I’ve had several people ask me in recent weeks for advice on how to find work as a freelancer. And while I give what advice I can, I always preface that advice by saying “I really don’t know.”

I have spent a great deal of time and effort marketing myself and introducing myself to potential employers. But that has yet to bring in enough steady work to make freelancing a viable option.

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In this case, use the word with fewer digits

I was asked recently whether “digitization” or “digitalization” is correct. It strikes me that “digitalization” is growing, but that’s just anectdotal. “Digitization” remains more common in a Google search, and it is more logical than “digitalization.” Digitize to convert to digits (as in binary). Digital is an adjective.

The words have long histories dating to before the digital age. “Digitize” once meant to point or to manipulate with the fingers. The first use to mean converting analog signal to digital dates to 1953 in the Oxford English Dictionary corpus. Digitizing data first appears in 1973 (at least in OED’s files).

According to Bryan A. Garner in “Garner’s Modern American Usage,” “digitalization” also has a specialized medical use: the administration of digitalis, a heart medicine prepared from the digitalis (or foxglove) plant. The digitalis plant was named in 1542 because of its shape like a thimble, or “fingerhut” in German.

Digit, the Latin word for our fingers and toes, came to mean numbers, especially numbers less than 10, because we count them on our digits.

And here is one more just for fun: a digitorium is a small, quiet keyboard used to exercise the fingers for piano playing.

Fingers fly, typos transpire

I noticed a couple of Twitter friends lamenting their inability to spell certain words on the first go. This led to a question from me with hashtag in place, and the ensuing conversation became what someone called a therapy session for copy editors, a chance to come clean with our imperfections.

I put the question out there, “What are some typos your fingers make that your brain knows are wrong?” I wasn’t asking for hard-to-spell words that come back to haunt us, but the words we immediately know we’ve messed up because we’ve momentarily lost control of our fingers.

“Teh,” is a common one, so common that I’m told it’s become gamer slang. There is “fo” instead of “of;” “Firday” for “Friday” — those I expected. What I found most interesting was the number of people who misspell their own names. “Ay” instead of “Amy.” “Jiame” instead of “Jaime.”

Regina White said she finds herself typing Regina Whtie (“Oh to be McGillicuddy!”). Stan Carey said he writes “Stab” or “Stabn” a few times a week.

“Sadly, my name,” said Anne Stibor. “‘Anen’ instead of ‘Anne’ (According to my fingers, my name is now A-n-e-n-delete-delete-n-e’).”

I was scratching my head over this, but at least twice since then I’ve had to correct “Makr” at the bottom of an e-mail.

“My name unfortunately comes out ‘Lousie’ if I am not careful,” said Louise Julig on Facebook. “Not a good thing.”

Carol Terry said “Despite many years typing Carol, my fingers like to sign off as Carpl.”

Lori Burwash sometimes types “Loir.” (“For the French version of ‘Lori,’ I guess.”)

“I always type LAura — like I’m shouting the first part of my name at them,” offered Laura Lampe.

“My spell check always kicks in after I sign off as Luara,” said Laura Barrett.

I often misspell my name, Ricahrd–I mean Richard,” said “Annoyed Richard.”

“I often type an j at the end of my name instead of an h,” said Sarah Sammis.

“Krisitn. I’d never be a Krisi,” said Kristin Thiel.

Some people have the opposite problem. “Any word that starts ‘da’ ends up as my name,” said a teacher who goes by “Lady Strathconn.” Robin Cooke reported: “I often add “e” to the end of “cook.”

“Sometimes I accidentally type ‘Merry Christina’ instead of ‘Merry Christmas’ because I’m so used to typing my name,” said Christina Galoozis.

“Many times I have mistyped Jesus for Jevon or vice versa. I start w/ J-e- then… who knows?” said Jevon Bolden.

“It’s impossible for me to type the word “witch” b/c my last name is Witschey. I always want to add the “s!” said Erin Witschey.

Some others:

“I always type studnets instead of students, and teachnology instead of technology,” said teacher JoAnna Cobb on Facebook.

Bottome. Don’t know why, fingers always want to add an e to the end. @briannepruitt

Gaurd instead of guard. @copyeditqueen

I have you instead of your and of instead of off. @BarbInNebraska

“Shittle” for “shuttle.” @andybechtel

I’m a Victorianist and usually type “Vicotrian” in drafts. Also “autsim.” @dvlock

My recurring typo is written. I add a swirly “e” on the ends of words, like “frome.” @BethanyEdits

In handwritting, I often combo words w/out realizing. Ex: “other hand” becomes “othand.” @KristinWithPen

I type “withe” for “with the.” @DiedofEnnui

I almost always write “Forth Worth” for the Texas city. @mattbramanti

“Paragragh” and “reccommend” @JessicaBCI

Phiadeplahia. No, wait. Phiadeplahiua. No. Phialadelphia. Phialdeplhia. Phiadelphia. See? It has a keyboard aversion. @OrangeXW

I’m an architect, and I usually type “construtcion” and “buidling.” Every single day. My CAD program doesn’t autocorrect. @michellegerner

“Bulleting” for “bulletin,” 90% of the times I try for “bulletin.” @OrangeXW

“bothe” is my most common in that department. @stevebwriter

univeristy – every. single. time. @virtuallori

“Now” for “not” and vice versa. a dangerous one.” @lburwash

I regularly type “pateint” when I mean “patient,” and I often misspell my name. @GrammarGirl

I’m embarrassed to say I often leave an “r” out of embarrassed. _steve_hall

recently i’ve been typing “magnate” instead of “magnet” which makes me look like an idiot. @elizabethonline

My most common is probably “think” for “thing.” I do that ALL the time! And “Bethesday” for “Bethesda.” @ErinRagan

Even though I don’t eat red meat, I often mistakenly type “misteak.” @RoxanneCooke

Most common typo is acitivities instead of activities. On iPhone most common is -ig instead of -ing. Drives me nuts @JackieDaly

For some reason, whenever I go to type Phoenix, it comes out Phoebix. I used to have a car I called Phoebe. Type memory. @StaplingJello

Semis for apostrophes? Won;t, isn;t … @LauraSBarrett

I type the word media a lot (Culinary Media Network), I sometimes type Medea instead. VERY different! @ChefMark

Jospeh. @jane_bos

I study – & edit articles on – hypnosis. Lately, my fingers insert an N any time I type a word that begins “H-Y-P”. @ButMadNNW

“Evenutally” and “watn” for “want” @MariaHench

Also tend to add a G to any word ending in I-N. (AND put #type on both these tweets!) @ButMadNNW

I add random final-Es to things that don’t need them. Don’t ask me why. @__Deb

My most common typo: wrok for work, even as part of a larger word. Last couple of days I’ve typed Dilpomacy a few times. @dudgeoh

My most common is occasionally. For some reason always comes out “ocassionally,” so I keep my eyes open for it! @InkyClean

I often end up typing “Untied States” instead of “United States.” I rather like that one. @JenHoward

I often type “YOU” in all caps for no reason at the beginning of a sentence, and constantly type “teh” when I mean “the.” @TimBabbComedian

I always type apostrophes after the contraction. Dont’, wont’, cant’. Word auto corrects to don’t’, won’t’, can’t’. @akimoku

I use a textbook by an author named Flick; I always type Flickr instead. Silly Web 2.0, confusing me like that. ;) @profsivek

Children always ends up childrne. Training winds up trainng. and don’t get me started on my last name ; ) @michellv123

“I can’t type Indiana…ever. Indidna, INdidana, Indidana…I have to come to a crawl when I type it. Too many vowels.” Lisa Higgins, via Facebook

“I *always* type “reasearch” instead of “research.” Erin McKean

“traffice”–I have no idea why. @MarkWSchumann

Oh! One of my classics, a shadow of my Highlander fandom days: “Methos” for “Method.” @ButMadNNW

As I’ve just been reminded I seldom get “particularly” right first time – I have “particulalry” on auto-correct. @stevebwriter

For me, it’s “hospital.” It always comes out “hopsital” unless I make a conscious effort. Sandy Sutton, via Facebook.

I wonder how many people type “greatful”? (Like the “reasearch” mentions.) @frindley

Embarrassingly, “Knasas” for “Kansas.” @grammarmonkeys

Don’t ask me why, but I almost invariably type “thnaks” when I mean “thanks.” @mjcp

As a health care editor, I often type “medial” instead of “medical.” No help with spell check there. @azmattmorgan

Funny, I just typed “speach.” Never done that before. This discussion has got typos on my mind! @marlamarkman

“Form” when I mean “from.” grrr @SpellboundBkshp

Lately my typo is mangement instead of management. I think it’s some sort of doggy skin disorder. @Lori_writes

I type “studnet” for “student” most of the time. @AimeeGissel

I type “Sna Diego” a lot. And I triple check each time I type it to make sure I don’t claim to be in “pubic relations.” @Stefaniya

Look waht (or what) you started, … I was typed my full name on a form as Gerri Berri because I wasn’t paying attention. @gerrrib

I put notes on stories all the time that say “wtih pix.” @gerrrib

Mange rather than manage, manger rather than manager. @ciaramoynihan

When your typo hang up is teh instead of the, people know what you mean. When it’s “trail” instead of “trial,” you’re being confusing. @gerrrib

I often type “pronunication” for “pronunciation.” Very embarrassing. @pronuncian

Always have trouble with point. Even though the first 3 letters are right there in a row, I usually type “opint.” @4ndyman

So used to typing “ing” at word’s end that anything ending in “in” gets a G added: begin(g), satin(g), Palin(g) @4ndyman

Taht/that @kgrindrod

decision and prescious – see?- I mean precious. @aubergineword

I often type “itme” instead of “time” and “enterpreneur” instead of “entrepreneur” lol. @maheshrmohan

The list already seems exhaustive. But with such a variety represented here, I suspect there are still many more. What’s your typo?

Twitter is a great place for a conversation

In a year of discovery on Twitter, I have acquainted myself with an amazing group of editors, linguists, lexicographers and other word lovers. I don’t consider myself an expert on language, just a practitioner. I haven’t diagrammed a sentence in 30 years. And I am much better at cleaning up other people’s copy than I am at avoiding my own mistakes.

A longtime debate among some word aficionados is whether language rules should be enforced or whether we should let language evolve. It seems a silly debate. Of course, both are true. Language would not exist without conventions, but those conventions evolve to fit changing times. Sometimes this evolution is based on fashion; sometimes it is based on utility.

As a newspaper copy editor, my job was to enforce rules and put up at least an honorable defense to change. Language can be wild and confusing, and trendiness can get in the way of the basic goal of language: clarity. Newspapers can be playful with the language, just not loose.

So a newspaper copy editor probably falls somewhere right of center. Some would say solidly to the right as a member of the prescriptivist’s caucus.

Twitter is not newspapers. It may be written, but sentence structure more closely resembles spoken language than written. Twitter conversations can veer wildly to left.

John Metcalfe took a look at what could be called the wingnuts of Twitter in a story in today’s New York Times. On one side, those who seem to type with their elbows on their Blackberrys and iPhones; on the other side, what the story calls “self-appointed Twitter scolds” who endeavor to enforce the rules of “proper English.”

But that story looks at the extremes, and the middle path almost always turns out to be the superior one. I’m not familiar with any of the people in Metcalfe’s story. The people I know through Twitter are mostly careful with the language, but don’t revel in the imperfections of others. They might note a particularly enjoyable public typo or commiserate over an example of careless writing, but they don’t seek to embarrass or scold.

I was asked about the issue several weeks ago by Metcalfe, and I told him I had never heard of the practice and that I couldn’t fathom whey someone would bother. I explained that I’m loath to publicly make note of anyone’s errors, and I don’t correct Twitter talk. If a friend makes a gaff that could be embarrassing, I am careful to pass a note along privately or through a Twitter account that has only a few followers.

It turns out I didn’t really say anything then that would add to Metcalfe’s story. I gave a better answer, I think, when I was asked about my approach to language policing on Twitter moments ago.

“It’s better to be helpful than to be chiding, to support rather than attack,” I said.

This is not to say that I condone those who don’t care enough about their readers to put together a coherent 140-character statement. But I have a simple technique for dealing with it. I don’t follow them.

5K run contributes to an informed society

Note: If you read to the end, there is an appeal for money.

After a year away from the desk — a tumultuous year for newspaper copy desks everywhere — my respect and admiration for my colleagues has only increased. So, too, has my expectation for a positive future.

I became a journalist because I believed in the power of information and I respected those who worked to keep us informed. I became a copy editor because I wanted to be sure what ended up in the readers’ hands was the best possible telling of the stories that shape our communities and our world.

You would think this would be a lousy time to be in college looking at a career in copy editing. But there are many young people in college today focused on copy editing with the same motivation that drove me. They have the brain power to excel at anything, but they choose to enter the risky, mostly thankless field of keeping us all informed.

Despite the conventional thinking, these future copy editors are entering a field that is more important than ever. The number of news sources is increasing, and we need to be able to turn to those sources that are concerned with the public good rather than those focused on driving an agenda. Newspapers are not dying, and news copy desks will not disappear. The demands on the desk will be greater, but the foundations will not change.

The American Copy Editors Society believes in a strong future for copy editors and every year awards thousands of dollars in scholarships to those entering the field. I am looking forward to meeting this year’s honorees this week in Philadelphia at the ACES annual conference. This year’s scholarship winners are Shannon Epps of Hampton University in Virginia; Emily Ingram of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln; Robin Kawakami, who graduated last year from City University, London; William Powell, who graduated in December from the University of Missouri-Columbia; and Caitlin Saniga of Kent State University in Ohio.

To encourage others along the path of these five copy editors, I’m planning to run in my first 5K this week through the streets of Philadelphia to the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art (a la Rocky) and then onward to the Tavern on Broad, where I’m told raw eggs will be provided. I’ve been walking 5K for the past several weeks, so I’m pretty sure I won’t collapse en route. Last night I ran half the distance, the most I’ve ever run, and I hope to keep up with younger, more fit copy editors for at least the first half of the route.

The run is a fundraiser for the ACES Education Fund. Officers have a goal of building a $130,000 endowment to make the fund self-sustaining. I no longer have an office in which to solicit contributions, but if you’ve read this far, I encourage you to help me with a worthy cause. I’m asking for donations of just $1, which you can send to me via PayPal. I’ll make the donation to the fund in all your names, and I’ll tweet a special thank you to all who contribute.

Donations should be made via by clicking on the “Send Money” tab at the PayPal site. Sorry I don’t have a button. Maybe next year I’ll have figured that out.

Details on the run are here:

Details on the ACES Education Fund are here:

And please take a look at the fine copy editors honored this year:

I am grateful to you for your support.