Monday, July 19, 2010

Lying down on laying down

Continuing the topic started in the previous post (which you should read first if you haven't already), where I suggested it may be time to abandon quibbling when "lay" is used when "lie" is actually correct...

To those who know the difference between "to lie" and "to lay" (for the purposes of this post let's pretend I'm your peer in the in the realm of rhetoric) I must note here that I understand the compulsion to correct the errors of language made by those who simply don't know better. I get it. I've been there—heck, as evidenced by the paragraph noting my response to the first Hanes commercial in the last post, I still encounter that. I grasp that sense of being the last bastion of order in the land of linguistic chaos. The intentions are not to force one's will upon these others out of a thirst for power; it is, in its own way, a noble pursuit, with designs only on helping these others express themselves better, to allow what they say to convey what they really mean.

(To everyone else: Yeah, I'm sure some of the people who harp on your grammatical faux pas are just a-holes who get some stupid sense of superiority, but that should not be interpreted as suggesting all language mavens have such petty motivation.)

I fathom that if no one addresses these mistakes that through repetition they will become the norm and may eventually gain some begrudging acceptance (see "irregardless"). Some metaphor about a weed that unless it is pulled early will spread its seeds and flourish and take over the whole lawn is not completely inapplicable. However, the analogy that seems like it represents the feelings some of you have is more akin to William Wallace striding before a band of kilted warriors saying "They may take our lives, but they'll never take our MLA Handbook!"

Or perhaps a better analogy is of defending the Alamo. And we all remember how that turned out.

Semantics is not worth dying for.

(Yes, I know I ended that sentence with a preposition.)


It's not that there's no circumstances where chiming in when someone has committed a mistake that not only does not follow rules but also changes the meaning of what he/she means. However, I'm pretty sure we all knew what Hanes meant by "lay-flat," didn't we?

Pick your battles. Don't forget: You're outnumbered. And in the end, the stress you cause yourself by being strict about non-academic speech is only detrimental to you.

Besides, if there's fewer of us than there are of them, we can form an exclusive club. If they won't heed our advice because it's right, perhaps they will when we don't want them to do so. (More on that in the next post.)

But regarding those who clearly don't care about these modest inaccuracies, it's time to let it go. If nothing else, the "Grammar" ad from Hanes is more of a concession than we had reason to expect from Madison Avenue, so we should give them some credit for that and cut them slack in response.

It's as much in your best interest as anyone's.


  1. I agree, semantics aren't worth dying for. But they're certainly worth killing for. ;->

  2. Ah, Marvin, the only problem there: Not enough bullets to even bother starting...


So, what do you think?