Don’t miss the ultimate foodie event, The Baltimore Sun's Secret Supper

Leave it lay


At the top of today's list of dumb questions (One at a time, please, one at a time), is this tweet from @Dictionarycom: "Is it ok for musicians to use transitive verbs over intransitive verbs in the name of artisic license?"

If you are given to answer a question with a question, try this: Who is going to stop them?

The link on the tweet is to "Lay vs. Lie: Miley, Sufjan, and Grammatical Snafus in Pop Stardom," itself a response to Sufjan Stevens's chiding Miley Cyrus for using laying rather than lying in the song "Get It Right." The post lays out some of the treachery in the lie/lay distinction and invites readers to submit further examples of pop-music infractions. 

Ben Yagoda treads the same ground, more thoroughly and assuredly, in " 'Lay Down': My Burden" at Lingua Franca. Though he does not invite readers to submit infractions, he is getting in the neck from fans of Sufjan Stevens infuriated at a dismissive remark.* But he is dead-on with the struggle of speakers of English to sort out the two verbs over the generations, and I think he is also right in foreseeing that lay is well on the way toward overtaking the intransitive lie. I feel obligated to tell my editing students about the distinction each semester, and they  tare at me blankly as if I were demanding that they master Mycenaean Linear B. 

But whatever one judges to be appropriate for publication of standard written English, it should be abundantly evident to even casual observers that determinedly colloquial popular music goes its own way and always has. Schoolmarmish scolding of popular musicians for failure to adhere to schoolroom grammar is as pointless and self-defeating an exercise as I can imagine. And, as Mr. Yagoda points out, it encompasses the snottiness factor. Leave it lay.    


*Not having paid any particular attention to popular music since spring term 1970, I am blessedly unacquainted with the oeuvres of these artists.  


Copyright © 2018, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad