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When I was young, as part of her regular grammar corrections, my mother would say, "People lie, chickens lay eggs." Apparently people regularly lay eggs or the use of "to lie" in the sense of being in a horizontal position has all but disappeared. I almost never hear anything but "lay" when people mean "lie." E.g., "I was laying around yesterday" or "I'm laying on my bed." 

Unfortunately for me, this particular use (misuse) always makes me cringe, even as I try to be open to evolving language. It seems I'm either going to have to adjust or live with visions of humans laying eggs all about.  In British writing, I do see lie used correctly where U.S. writers would use lay. Based on this fact alone, I have contemplated emigrating to the UK! Do you have any thoughts on the usage of these two verbs?--Allison McNeill

Well, maybe "all but disappeared" is an exaggeration, but Allison is definitely right about the popularity of "lay" as present...


The e-mail from my colleague at the Lingua Franca blog, Geoffrey Pullum, read, “Most things, yes.  It’s a bit of a problem.  I have often written pieces that then had to be just tossed in the electronic trash because he published a longer and better discussion before I was finished. And I ought to be five hours ahead of both of you, on UK time.”

He was responding to my own e-mail, which asked, simply, “Does Liberman get to EVERYTHING first?”

“Liberman” would be Mark Liberman, professor of linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania, and the co-founder, along with Lingua Franca’s own Geoffrey Pullum, of the super-awesome blog Language Log. The sheer number of Mark’s posts demands an adjective that goes well beyond prolific. The upsetting thing is that they’re usually really good, too.


What's the origin of the suddenly ubiquitous "Don't sleep on. . ." as a swap for "don't underestimate"? It's everywhere in sports the last year or two--Jeff MacGregor, ESPN, via Twitter (@MacGregorESPN)

I had to somewhat sheepishly tell Jeff that I had never enountered the expression. And there went my best excuse for watching so much sports on TV, viz., that at least it gives me a total command of sports announcers' cliches. Checking the various databases, I saw, first, that he was right about the current popularity....


No, that title isn't a typo for the Swedish group ABBA. Rather, it's a representation of the classic structure of the American popular song: Chorus (A)-Chorus-Bridge (B)-Chorus. Probably something over 90 percent of the Great American Songbook has this form, everything from "Over the Rainbow" to "I Get a Kick Out of You" to "The Lady Is a Tramp" to so many more (Including the Beatles' poppish numbers, such as "Yesterday"). It was on my mind because today is the forty-fourth birthday of Bob Dylan's album "Nashville Skyline." I digress to say I remember the hubbub that occurred when it came out--yes, it reached even to the halls of New Rochelle High School. The conversations about how and why Dylan had gone country couldn't have been that much less animated than the ones taking place just a few years earlier, when he had gone electric.

Anyway, then and now, my favorite song on the album was the ballad "I Threw It All Away." Over the years, I haven't been able to understand...


Last week, The New Yorker published a very long article by Marc Fisher entitled “The Master.” It is a remarkable, scrupulous, and devastating account of many reprehensible actions of Robert Berman, a former English teacher at Horace Mann, a private school in New York City. The article alleges that in his career at the school, which started in the mid-1960s and ended in 1979, Berman sexually abused at least four of his male students. The parents of a fifth student, who committed suicide, have made similar allegations regarding their son. Berman, who is in his late 70s, denies the allegations. But the students independently told Fisher credible and strikingly similar accounts, and I cannot see any reason not to believe them.

I went to Horace Mann and Mr. Berman was my teacher. The student who committed suicide and one of the students who spoke to Fisher were my classmates. I was shocked...