Word Flummoxery: lie lay lie



The flummoxerization of the average native speaker of English who has unexpectedly wandered into grammar’s slough of despond is never greater than when he/she/they (you choose) have/has to deal with lie, lay, and lie. The three words sound deceivingly like musical non-lexical vocables, sounds singers make up when they can’t think of any more words.



The first lie in this triad is an intransitive verb, which means the action of the verb doesn’t go anywhere because the subject is resting, so please keep your voice down. The prefix “in” in intransitive means “not.” We can think of the subject as no longer in transit, unless they fly first-class and have grown indifferent to the plaintive cries of those in the second-class section, whose seats are marked with a button called “Recline,” which, if you look carefully you will see contains the wash-your-mouth-out-with-soap word of our trilogy. But more of that later, and hopefully less of these long, complicated sentences that are really just rants decked out in commas.



At this point, the reader may be thinking, “This is easy.” Think again. You’ve stepped into one of the muddiest parts of the slough.



Did you lie down in bed last night? Tell me about it. I lied in bed. Well, that may be true, but it’s not the past tense of the “lie” known as rest. Okay, I laid in bed. Laid what, my friend? You see how easy it is to get stuck in the mud. The correct answer is “I lay in bed last night.” Many people are disturbed to wake up and discover they slept all night with what can also be a transitive verb.



To avoid disturbation, use a synonym like “recumb.”


Harold: (at the dinner table) Excuse me, Lydia. I’m not feeling well. I think I need to recumb.


Lydia: (running for the bucket) Here, use this.


Harold: No, dear, I need to find a place to support most of my body in a somewhat horizontal position.


Lydia: That sounds supine.



Lay, the second leaf on our word shamrock lie-lay-lie, means to place or put something somewhere, often in a place you have completely forgotten about. Since it’s perfectly acceptable to lay your head on your pillow, people often say, “I’m going to lay down.” Unless they are planning to lay down their burdens, this is incorrect. If they are planning to lay down their burdens, perhaps you could show a little sympathy and not try to correct their grammar.



The ubiquitous “people” that we have all heard so much about often point to Bob Dylan’s song “Lay, Lady, Lay” as the first of many songs leading to decline of the English language. What these “people” don’t know, and I didn’t know myself until a few minutes ago, was that Dylan’s favorite hen, Lady, was one of the most productive hens ever not recorded. When she hit a rough spot in her career, Dylan wrote this song to encourage her. He thought a change of venue, his big brass bed, would do the trick. Apparently, many chicks were laid there.



That little known “fact” brings us to our third word “lie.” As far as information goes, this is dis- or mis-. A lie is to the truth as a politician is to his or her campaign promises: there is no connection. Many people lie; I lied once myself, but I didn’t inhale.



Quibblers may squabble or prattle or babble over exceptions, other meanings, and other uses of  lie-lay-lie. Brabble on. The English language is full of exceptions, ergo ipso facto hokey pokey, it is an exceptional language.






Image courtesy: Flickr by graymalkn at http://flickr.com/photos/22244945@N00/3565234041.






If you are an American, I hope you enjoyed your Thanksgiving spread. If you’re like me (and if you are, I hope you are seeing a therapist) you will carry memories of it in your hips and thighs for months to come.



My holiday spread begins at Thanksgiving and usually ends around Labor Day when I overindulge for the very last time this year (honest!) because I believe in moderation in all things. I also believe that my body’s remembrance of meals past enlarges me and makes me a bigger person, so I’m conflicted.



Of course, not everyone celebrates when you begin spreading, especially if you are sitting next to them on an airplane. These whiners tend to be the same people who object to using “them” with the antecedent “everyone” in that last sentence. I should know because I object as well. But only if I discover the usage in a student’s paper. In my own writing, in order to avoid using the awkward “him or her” or wasting time rewriting the sentence with a plural subject, I pull out my Shakespeare card and say, “I follow my Will.” He did, as you know, write the lines, “There’s not a man I meet but doth salute/As if I were their well-acquainted friend.” If the objector continues to complain, I pull out my failed poet card, put it next to Shakespeare’s, and say, “Bards of a feather flock together.” That rarely convinces anyone, but I take my pleasures where I can.



If you skipped that last paragraph, I congratulate you on your astuteness. It has little relevance to the purported point of this post. If you didn’t skip that last paragraph, well, better luck next time.



Now, where were we? (I hate it when I lose my spread of thought.)



Holiday spread happens, as does secondhand holiday spread (the encroachment of your spread into other people’s space.) This year show your love by giving Spanx.



Happy Spanxgiving!



I borrowed this picture from the official Spanx website (http://www.spanx.com/). If you Spanx me, I promise not to do it again.




Writing myself down


I sit before the screen as words unfurl; skeins of thought untangle one by one. In silence I knit, undo, and knit again.


Above ground, the words grow, limb by limb, empty branches longing for spring. In the hidden place, the roots of wordless thought spread beneath the story that is me.




The truth is, words gnaw at my heart, so I release them. One thought leads to another; I follow, climb skyward, never looking down. I cling to fragile branches that cannot bear my weight. The trees I write, stripped of summer, grow from the tips of from my blue-stemmed hands. Blood flows from heart to paper, as it must.



The pattern is everywhere. Beauty divides and subdivides into frost, deltas, translucent wings, agates, cells, copper crystals, numbers, and the red river within. Trees of fire touch earth in storms; neurons branch into life. I am part of the pattern. Sentences flow onto paper; the waters merge, drowning me again and again.



I write the bridge I walk on. Behind me, the past swallows my path. I long to write myself home, a place I’ve never been. Will these words carry me there?



Had I been free to write these many years, I would have had the time to write myself mad. All those doors shut, the daily tasks that blocked my way, disappointments stealing so much time, every one another mercy.


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Copper crystals:  By Paul from Enschede, The Netherlands (Dendritic Copper Crystals) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Sand patterns:  David Lally [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Colorado dry river delta:  U.S. Geological Survey 
Department of the Interior/USGS
U.S. Geological Survey/photo by Pete McBride

Veins: http://www.radpod.org/2006/11/08/cerebral-arteriovenous-malformation/

Dr. Marina-Portia Anthony

Frost: Joe Lencioni, shiftingpixel.com

Wing venationhttp://bugs.bio.usyd.edu.au/

Neuron: http://www.plosbiology.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pbio.0040029






Simple past




Only in grammar

can you guarantee

a past, present, and future

that is perfect.



I have had my share

of that perfection,

but yesterday,

the verbs were restless.

Some sprouted –ings

and flew around the room

as nouns

as if flying were a thing

to be desired.



The rest,

tired of being active,

pulled on their participles

and just stood there,

describing things.



Some of the nouns,

envious of all the action,

broke into a dictionary

grabbed suffixes willy-nilly

and put them on like tails

to strut among the verbs





So many things were


And while much of it

was clearly progressive,

I sat in that hubbub

and longed for my

simple past.

The road to riches is lined with just nine words


Slogging through the whelming flood of teaching and correcting student essays, I have come to two realizations. First, instructing others is not the road to riches. Second, and more importantly, daily reading the writing of people who overuse gerunds affects you.


If you read this blog, and if you do I both thank you and feel your pain, you know that in spite of having failed to get rich by my never-popular Dog and a Half word kit, I am still searching for the road that leads to riches. In my quest I have wandered down the wrong road more than once. Years ago, I rashly took the road to itches; another time, I crashed through the gate closing the road to stitches. After that I stumbled down an incline onto the road to ditches, which led me through a spooky forest marked “The Road to Witches.” At least that’s what I thought the sign said. Someone had scratched out the “w” and tried to write another letter.



So the other day when I read that William Faulkner, moldering in his grave these past 50 years, has directed his heirs to go after Woody Allen for putting Faulkner’s words in the actor’s mouth, my gast was flabbered, that is to say, I was flabbergasted. This pay-to-say lawsuit is over a nine-word quote. Two short sentences for a total of nine words. If that isn’t flabbergastery, I don’t know what is. Really, you expect me to believe that Faulkner could write sentences that short? If I were the dead Hemingway, I would be directing my heirs to see if I actually wrote those sentences. Faulkner, who wrote a 1,288 word sentence in one of his books (rhymes with Abs and Arms, Abs and Arms) was not exactly known for his brevity. If you have read any of his other works, such as Alight in a Gust, As I Die Lying, Arose for Emily, or The Sound in the Flurry, you know what I mean.

And what are these nine words that you must pay to say? To avoid lawsuits, I’ll give you a couple of hints.

  • The paste is never dried. It’s not even paste. (Remove one “e” from each sentence. Take out the “ri” and push an “a” between the “e” and “d.”)
  • The p*st is never dead. It’s not even p*st. (Buy a vowel. I suggest “a.”)


Do you see where this is going? If your words are copyrighted, or even copywronged, you can sue people and get money. If you write a blog, a book, a letter, a to-do list, an electric bill (think the date and your name!), and then put that little copyright mark on it, you can become rich! You may be able to sue for even fewer than nine words. Eight words, seven words, six words, whee! This may be the last semester I teach.


Mark my words, folks, (but only if you find any errors, and please use green ink because that’s what we use at school to soothe the students who have been traumatized by years of red ink splattered across their papers, making every assignment they’ve ever written look like one more bloody battlefield in their war against the English language, a language they mangle, wrangle, and tangle on their tongues every day, slicing and dicing with their verbal swords, threatening to murder their own mother tongue — she who gave them voice, nurtured, cooed and wooed them! — until they give form to those words, incarnate them into curves and lines, lettering them onto paper, where they lie in rows like soldiers in trenches, fighting a losing battle against the teacher, who enters the fray, scarred but not deterred, weary but not defeated, ready to fight through the long, lonely hours of the night, unflinching in the face of that barrage of words that scatters meaning helter-skelter, but does not, yea, cannot conquer the ink-marked soldier, armed with just a pen, marching forth, gathering the wounded words, mending them if possible, but if not, circling them in a green shroud to be carried away), if other dead people follow this trend, we will all have to start paying when we quote them.


You can quote me on that. In fact, I hope you do.


(Note to Faulkner’s estate: In no way, shape, or form am I trying to disgorge your profits to engorge my own. All quotes and book titles appearing in this post are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, moldering or fully moldered in his or her grave in Oxford, Mississippi, having litigious heirs or not, is purely coincidental.)

Windbreaking News: Election 2012





In the last week before Election Day, the vote of hot air balloonists in Wisconsin is still up in the air. According to Google, from October 1 to October 21, over 750 political ads were unleashed on the Wisconsinite public every single day. Personal appearances by presidential  and senatorial candidates have gone up dramatically.


Will Loftus, longtime balloonist, isn’t happy. “State and national politicians have been appearing all over Wisconsin like a rash on a baby’s bum. I hate to vent, but it breaks my heart to see that amount of hot air go to waste. All I hear from the politicians is talk about Medicare, taxes, wars in those foreign countries, jobs, and this country’s future. Why do they keep speaking to special interest groups? Frankly, I’m deflated. Political hot air is a renewable energy resource, yet not one politician has addressed that. I’m just your average citizen with a $25,000 hot air balloon. What about me and my needs?””


Unidentified sources close to Windbreaking News estimate that capturing political hot air would provide every citizen in Wisconsin a 30-minute ride in a hot air balloon each day for one month. Identified sources confirm this, and a random poll conducted by a random pollster on a random day in Random Lake* found that voters felt “let down” on hearing this news.



(*Random Lake, WI is known for its palindromic population: 1551.)




Photo courtesy of Nicolas Raymond http://www.freestock.ca/view_photog.php?photogid=1