It’s sad that I get genuinely excited when the Oxford English Dictionary publishes a new edition. What’s even sadder is that, despite my upcoming 'warm-me-up' visit to Bali, I have recently become genuinely frustrated by the epidemic of misused commas in modern prose.
My husband claims that he punctuates his writing by gathering a handful of punctuation and throwing it at the page. Whatever sticks is deemed to be correct. Unfortunately, due to lack of linguistic education, most of us seem to favour this scattergun approach, chucking in some mark or other wherever we would draw breath while speaking.
Last week, we looked at linguistic life support: the difference between lay and lie. I promised to reveal the difference this week. So, drum roll please:
Lie is what we call an "intransitive" verb - you never lie someone or something. You just lie down. Lay, then, is the "transitive" verb - you always lay something down. You can lay carpet, you can lay pavers, you can even get laid. But you can't lay down.
It gets a bit tricky, of course, because the past tense of lie is lay, so it is possible to say, "Suzie lay down on the bed". In a recent survey, however, my readers responded overwhelmingly that they do differentiate between the two. So we won't pull the life support machine on that one any time soon. RW
I admit it: I'm a stickler. When I'm bored, I troll real estate ads and magazines online, bemoaning the typos and usage mistakes. Even published books are not spared from my wrath - give me a 500-page book and I will give you a list of the errors and misspellings.
We sticklers have a fancy name: prescriptivists. Linguistic nerds have slapped this label on us to show that even they, the eggheads of the grammar world, look down on the old-fashioned grammarian. We are the old guard of the grammar world.