Favorite

Words Feb. 3 

In the Arkansas Times, of all places, a pundit wrote about “the final part of the Supreme Court’s order that lays unaddressed.” Charles Clapp called to express disappointment in both the columnist (“He’s usually pretty reliable”) and the Times as an institution. “Or have people just given up observing the distinction between lay and lie, between transitive and intransitive verbs?” he asked sadly. Some of us haven’t given up, Mr. Clapp, and if we’d gotten our hands on that column before it appeared in print, it would have said “the final part of the Supreme Court’s order that lies unaddressed.” In standard English, lay (“put, place, set down”) is a transitive verb; it requires an object. Lay your cards on the table. Lie (“to be in, or move into, a reclining position, or on or onto a flat surface”) is intransitive — it takes no object. Lie down and get some rest. There’s always been some confusion over lie and lay — partly because the past tense of lie is lay — and it may be worsening. Al Dexter got it right in the 1940s when he wrote and sang, “Lay that pistol down, babe, lay that pistol down. Pistol-packin’ mama, lay that pistol down.” Bob Dylan got it wrong in the ’60s with “Lay, lady, lay, lay across my big brass bed.” (Though getting it right in that context would have sounded funny. “Lie, lady, lie” sounds like something else entirely.) The Cambridge Guide to English Usage says that the use of lay and its past tense, laid, in place of lie/lay is already common in conversation, and predicts that lay/laid will eventually prevail even in written, edited English. But it hasn’t happened yet. This seems to be a week for tripping up the Times. Jim von Tungeln saw “The Quapaw Quartet is comprised of violinists Eric Hayward and Meredith Maddox, violist Lin Chang and cellist Melita Hunsinger.” He writes: “I was taught that comprise means ‘include’ or ‘contain.’ [The Quapaw Quartet comprises violinists Eric Hayward and Meredith Maddox, violist Lin Chang and cellist Melita Hunsinger.] Is comprised of a usage that has achieved acceptance through its pure doggedness?” I say no. The Oxford Dictionary and Webster’s Third say yes. Who’re you going to believe?
Favorite

From the ArkTimes store

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by Doug Smith

  • The L word and the C word

    I was excited to see the newspaper headline "Bielema liberal." "After all those neo-Nazis, we've finally got a coach who thinks right," I told friends. "I wonder if he belongs to the ADA."
    • May 1, 2014
  • Who's exasperated?

    Jim Newell was gripped by exasperation himself after reading this item in the business section. "Exacerbated" is the word the writer wanted, he sagely suggests.
    • Apr 24, 2014
  • We will run no race before it's ripe

    "What year would Oaklawn recognize as its 100th anniversary? After all, Oaklawn's advertising material is ripe with 'Since 1904,' but it's widely reported the first race wasn't run until 1905."
    • Apr 17, 2014
  • More »

More by Max Brantley

Most Shared

Latest in Words

  • The L word and the C word

    I was excited to see the newspaper headline "Bielema liberal." "After all those neo-Nazis, we've finally got a coach who thinks right," I told friends. "I wonder if he belongs to the ADA."
    • May 1, 2014
  • Who's exasperated?

    Jim Newell was gripped by exasperation himself after reading this item in the business section. "Exacerbated" is the word the writer wanted, he sagely suggests.
    • Apr 24, 2014
  • We will run no race before it's ripe

    "What year would Oaklawn recognize as its 100th anniversary? After all, Oaklawn's advertising material is ripe with 'Since 1904,' but it's widely reported the first race wasn't run until 1905."
    • Apr 17, 2014
  • More »

Event Calendar

« »

October

S M T W T F S
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
8 9 10 11 12 13 14
15 16 17 18 19 20 21
22 23 24 25 26 27 28
29 30 31  

Most Viewed

  • Cotton to CIA?

    Political junkies without a real election to overanalyze fill the void with "what if?" scenarios. With the State Fair underway, consider this column a helping of cotton candy for such readers.
  • The casting couch

    Long ago and far away, I had an academic superior who enjoyed sexually humiliating younger men. There was unwanted touching — always in social situations — but mainly it was about making suggestive remarks, hinting that being a "hunk" was how I'd got hired.
  • Caution: government at work

    I have several government targets this week.

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: Cotton to CIA?

    • Whether he remains in the US Senate or becomes the head of the CIA, there…

    • on October 18, 2017
 

© 2017 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation