Rhymes With Fuchsia

Monday, January 14, 2008

Word Warrior

Since today's post is a bit rantish, I will first show you a gratuitous rooster picture.

Nice, no? OK, moving right along...

I have an alter ego, occasionally referred to by my colleagues as the Grammar Nazi; I prefer to call him Conan, the Grammarian. While recognizing that language is essentially fluid, Conan is somewhat of a fuddy-duddy; he may be related to my grandmother, who, I am told, was wont to murmur after consulting the dictionary, "They keep changing the first pronunciation to the second pronunication, but I will continue to use the correct first pronunciation."

Generally I try to keep Conan quiet, preferably comatose, since otherwise his constant squawking gives me no peace while I'm trying to read the paper. Now and then, however, especially when feeling a bit cabin-feverish at the end of a snow day, he gets the floor. Today he would like to talk about the verbs lie and lay.

Lie, meaning to recline, is intransitive: I lie, am lying, lay, have lain down to sleep.

Lay, meaning to place or put, is transitive: Conan lays, is laying, laid, has laid it on the line.

No doubt the confusion stems from the fact that lay is a past tense of lie. These days lay gets used as its own past tense and as the present tense of lie; I haven't heard anyone outside my immediate family say lain in I don't know how long.

So, my friends, I beg you, for Conan's sanity: if you want to say lay, but can't answer the question "lay what?", you probably want lie. If you want to say lie, to mention that you're lying something down, you want lay.

If you're still here, you may at this point be wondering about "Now I lay me down to sleep..." — but not to worry. Lay what? Lay me. No lie.


  • Conan might enjoy the "This is not a sentence" blog -- http://thisisnotasentence.blogspot.com/

    Sadly, posting is not frequent enough to keep up with the abuses of the English language.

    By Blogger Danielle, at 9:21 PM  

  • Very nice. Now, could we get Conan to comment on "affect" vs "effect"?

    By Blogger Wool Enough, at 9:56 PM  

  • Conan would love to sit down for tea with my mother, who ... very politely ... informed the stationary store that every single wedding invitation in the store was flawed because they used "and" when writing out the year (as in: "nineteen hundred AND ninety").

    That she was right did not prevent me from wishing the floor would swallow me whole.

    By Blogger Ruth, at 8:50 AM  

  • Well, I have to apologize, because I am probably one of the offenders. I've looked up lie and lay about a hundred times, and the difference just will not stick in my head.

    I look it up, I read it, I nod my head, I write whichever is correct, and the next time, AAARGHHH! I have to look it up again.

    This is weird because I am something of a spelling and grammar Nazi myself most of the time.

    Another fun word & language blog is
    Language Log:

    (And I've never heard "Canadian" in the sense of today's post.)

    By Blogger Alwen, at 9:02 AM  

  • Oh! And as a fellow photographer of chickens,

    Love my Fraggle Rock (Golden Polish) hen.

    By Blogger Alwen, at 9:06 AM  

  • Go Conan! I learned that "a chicken lays an egg. If you lie down with dogs, you will get up with fleas."

    By Blogger Roxie, at 10:57 AM  

  • Thank you! This is my biggest language pet peeve. It drives me crazy that so many people get it wrong.

    By Blogger Miss T, at 12:13 PM  

  • Now I sit me up to read, the way Lucia put it, I almost peed. my peeve? May have:Might have
    Is that your rooster?

    By Blogger Carol, at 12:36 PM  

  • The gratuitous rooster may lie, but I doubt he will EVER lay...ANYthing!

    Nuff' said...

    Bantam blessings!

    By Blogger Susan Pandorf, at 1:29 PM  

  • bwah hahahaha... I was thinking, what if what I want to lay is myself down? Not sure your question reminder helps me... this IS one I admit to confusing. But the internet is great, I google lay lie and get my answers (ditto farther further-because I have known what is correct, but so often hear what is not that I get confused). Let's not even go to nucular.

    By Blogger knitnzu, at 8:02 PM  

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