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.