Today’s topic, my little rhetoric redactors, is a subject near and dear to my heart, and that is two of the most incorrectly used words in the English language…lie and lay. How could such innocuous and tiny words cause such grammatical confusion and abuse? Here, then, is a simple and foolproof way of testing the accuracy of your choice when both writing and speaking: lie is to recline or tell an untruth, lay is to place or put. Keeping this rule in mind, you would never say or write, “Lay down beside me” or “Lie it on the table.”
My inkblot for determining one’s true level of education or knowledge is how he/she uses these two words. Even if you’ve been prattling on about Proust and referencing your undergrad years at Yale, but then let loose at your dog with, “Lay down, Marcel,” you’ve lost me. It is a foolproof and easy assessment, one that quickly weeds out the pretenders, if used incorrectly, and also a guaranteed entry into the inner circle of grammar snobs if used correctly. The key is to practice frequently and shamelessly until you become confident and correct. Flaunt your prowess at every opportunity…”Lie down, Biscuit,” “Lay the gun down now, honey,” “Lie to me one more time and I’ll have to lay down the law before I lie down for my nap.” See how much fun it is playing with words?
Till next time…
cartoon by Harry Bliss