Wednesday, January 2, 2008

New Year Resolution No. 1

My favorite present this Christmas season is the Associated Press Stylebook. It’s as much fun as Strunk and White’s Elements of Style, if you like that sort of thing.
Which I do.

Life coach and author Martha Beck points out that we best remember things that connect with what we love, and for many of us, that means stories that catch our imagination rather than rules.
(Some people remember things like bus schedules better, but they are in the minority.)

Beck was a “good girl” who worked hard in high school at her science classes, but at midlife she can’t remember any of the higher math.
She does remember, however, all sorts of details from the first Star Wars movie, which she saw once, and only once, in high school. She even remembers the names of the robots.

Me too! R2D2 and C3PO, though I couldn’t name any elements of the periodical table, other than the ones in common use, like O. (Except now that means “Oprah.”)

Same with language:
I don’t remember all the parts of speech, for instance, despite Miss Dahl’s authoritarian efforts in 10th grade English.

I’m an intuitive grammarian rather than a memorizer of rules, but gaining understanding of the inner workings of language is a kick.
It’s the understanding I like—it’s the story part.

But sometimes you just have to buckle down and learn some rules that make no particular sense. My New Year resolution of 2007 was to learn to spell “buoy,” which turns out to be spelled a way I had never guessed.

This year I decided the time has come to figure out the irregular ”lie/lay” thing.

(The words that describe the thing George W. & Co. does is easy, and I think we all know them:
lie, lied, lying.)

Here goes (in my own words, based on the AP):

“Lay/laid/laying/laid” is the action chickens do (if they are alive):
Today, the chicken squawks as she lays an egg.
Yesterday, the chicken squawked as she laid an egg.


The participles are:
The chicken is laying an egg.
In the past, the chicken often has laid an egg.


“Lie/lay/lain/lying” describes a passive position chickens might be found in (though probably only if they are dead):
Today, the chicken lies headless on the kitchen table.
Yesterday, the chicken lay on the dirt, having died a natural death from old age, so we needn’t feel bad about eating her.


Participles of “lie”:
The chicken is lying dead on the ground.
In the past, the chicken not often has lain on the ground of her own volition.


There.
Nothing for it but to memorize it.

1 comment:

augustan said...

A long time ago my sister arrived home from a basketball game and walking into the darkened living-room discovered our live-in maid Molly on the couch with her boyfriend. "Don't get upset," cried Molly, "we're just laying here. "I hope not," my sister rejoined, "only chickens and bad girls lay!"