Apr 12, 2022Liked by Lexicon Valley

I say lay. You say lie. Lay, lie, let’s call the whole thing off, but let’s not call the calling off off.

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It is a point of personal discipline. Abandon the difference between lie and lay, and soon, civilization will collapse.

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For me, the hill to die on is "irregardless."

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There'll be no hills! And No dying! Flat speekin', smooth speekin' places ONLY!!!! Ever-body gwan to speek an' rite however they likes to. Irregardless, don't nobody kier 'bout it noways even if they diuhd no better. This here is @Merica--whuar anyone kin talk an' rite however hir/zir/zim/etc laiks.

Ain't we learnt nuthin? Speekin' h'ain't importnt. Langage ain't importnt. Spellin ain't importnt. All's that's importnt is, wus yer feelins hurted? Igorant peeples is good is anybudy ells.

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I like proper usage. I'm surprised that John gives up the territory so easily. Complexity means nuance. And there is nothing we need more than nuanced speech. ESL speaker here.

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Apr 12, 2022Liked by Lexicon Valley

Sometimes I wish we had a dictator who forced us all to speak Esperanto.

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I wound up on this website because it appeared in my feed. I wish you hadn’t mentioned Esperanto, which got me thinking about the man who created it, Ludwig Zamenhof. I wanted to know more about him, so I Iooked him up. I knew he was a Polish Jew, but didn’t know that he was a Yiddishist who originally created Esperanto as an antidote to anti-Semitism. Zamenhof later became a Zionist, though he dropped that because, not surprisingly, he thought that nationalism was not the answer to “the Jewish problem.”

The bio mentioned that he had three children, and I clicked on the link to the first one’s name without thinking that I was heading for a minefield, one I’m usually highly cognizant of. All three of his children, all highly accomplished, all universalists, were murdered by the Nazis, two in Sept. 1942, in Treblinka - two weeks before my father’s entire family was murdered in that same camp.

Stupid me; I forgot that when you look up a notable Polish Jew who lived in the late 19th century, all roads will eventually lead to oblivion. I wonder what Zamenhof would have thought about universalism had he known what awaited his children.

Sorry, but discovering something so close to home - as a result of visiting what it is obviously a very cool website - has my head aching. And I had to write this.

Footnote: “Esperanto” means hope.

The national anthem of Israel is Hatikvah - Hebrew for “The Hope.”

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I was just listening to another podcast. BBC's Witness History (https://podcastaddict.com/episode/121536481), an episode about the discovery of the Jet Stream (trust me, the punch line here is relevant). It was discovered by US high-altitude bombers over Japan who experienced an inexplicable 125mph tail wind. It turns out that a Japanese scientist had discovered it in the 20's. He wrote it up in Japanese, and to spread it to the widest possible audience across the world also wrote it up in Esperanto.

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Latin would be good. Unite Europe and the entire post-colonial world.

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I actually do care about such distinctions, but whatever.

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I think the phrase you want is "but _anyway_" ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TMHE6gbIfKk )

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I’m cool with it…as long as being laid retains its unique meaning.

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The best-laid plans of mice and men ... lay lady lay, across my big brass bed ... that Dylan and his alliteration ....

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Dylan's in-your-face populism would be meaningless without a known distinction between standard and non-standard grammar.

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Of course. You can't get the shock of violating the rules if there are no rules.

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Like playing tennis with no net.

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Or clothes ;-)

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Apr 25, 2022·edited Apr 25, 2022

this brings in a vital and interesting aspect of this matter not so far treated as it merits: the talents, natural and learned, of an artist--of whatever art--and what the rest of us have.

There's a vast difference between what linguistic ignorance produces and what a free-spirited literary artist, breaking conventions of speech and proven, tried, literary styles does.

Bob Dylan (born Robert Zimmerman) has the poetic talents of a genius; but those potentials with which he was endowed at birth were made realizable by what he added in both book-study, (reading a _great_ deal of all kinds of literature) and a practical life, independent from a young age, and living as so many "bohemian" (artistic spirits) do. If his poetry was anything but grammatically conventional, that's because this is what iconoclastic genuis does. This doesn't at all mean or imply that he neither knew nor studied literature and brought that much applied effort to what he became and did as a writer later.

Nothing in his early life guaranteed his commercial success and it seems clear that it wasn't commercial ambitions which drove him. He had artistic, poetic ambitions and followed those without much regard for popularity; he clearly came up through the hard-won course of many a young genius who wasn't born to wealth or particularly advantageous privilege. That was a blessing for the art he produced. Dylan was and remains "popular"--exceedingly so and for much deserved and good reason. His songs and poetry spoke to and moved millions. But he wasn't what we should call "populist"--something rather different from "popular".

Ignorance of and general indifference to literature, liguistic arts and grammar, past and present, never produced a Bob Dylan or any other remarkable artistic genius of the literary arts and there's no reason to expect that it ever shall.

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Not. The distinctions are important. Perhaps not to grammar levelers.

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But why?

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To the extent you foreground grammatical issues in your communications, your message suffers. Also, you don't want to discredit your cause, whatever it might be, by associating it with uncertainty regarding grammar. Thus two practical purposes for correct grammar: avoiding distraction, and avoiding criticism. You might also respect the language and want to use it as best you can.

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You may throw your "Shakespeare" away now. For some, he might as well have never lived or written. For others, finding and understanding his work--though a struggle--was their awakening and emancipation. His was "a Theatre of Envy."

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..."My name be buried where my body is,..."

(Sonnet 72)

O! lest the world should task you to recite

What merit lived in me, that you should love

After my death,--dear love, forget me quite,

For you in me can nothing worthy prove.

Unless you would devise some virtuous lie,

To do more for me than mine own desert,

And hang more praise upon deceased I

Than niggard truth would willingly impart:

O! lest your true love may seem false in this

That you for love speak well of me untrue,

My name be buried where my body is,

And live no more to shame nor me nor you. ...


(Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, writing under the pen-name "William Shakspere" (12 April 1550 – 24 June 1604))

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It seems a brief mention of transitive vs, intransitive verbs would have been in order here.Hens LAY eggs. Dogs don’t lay anything. They lie down. Similarly, You cannot be drifted down the river, But you can be driven. The action in the verbs cited, lie, sit etc, cannot be done to you. They only have an “active” sense. (that’s what is meant by “intransitive”. ELS speaker here

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Apr 14, 2022·edited Apr 14, 2022

Good point. Lie vs. lay is a simple enough matter. Simpler than shall vs. will. Simpler than the different shades of should. Simpler than subjunctive vs. conditional. I would be more interested in learning more about the intricacies of proper usage than eliminating disfavored distinctions.

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Apr 16, 2022·edited Apr 16, 2022

..." I would be more interested in learning more about the intricacies of proper usage than eliminating disfavored distinctions."

As they say, "I know! Right!?!" But this makes of us today some sort of endangered species.

These verb forms--where the subjunctive is concerned, called "mood"--aren't that difficult. "should" _is_ part of the subjunctive case which interests you. It has fallen out of use in English (which is what's behind this lazy attitude that we should all just forget about it) but it remains important in French and is one of the reasons why people can express themselves more accurately in French today than in English. Not using the subjunctive correctly in French still marks one as poorly educated--but, then, French people are raised to prize, to value, their language. To abuse it and use it ignorantly is regarded by people who know better as an insult and a disgrace--not that they'd actually say something to the stranger who doesn't know how to speak the language correctly. But this is a large part of what feeds the Anglophone cultural view of Francophone culture as "snobbish". In Anglophone culture it's "snobbish" to care so much about one's language that one actually tries to learn and use it well.

"Will" is to "would" (intention, volition) what "shall" is to "should" ("futurity").

"Will you marry me?" "I will (marry you).", or "I won't (marry you)."

"I _would_ _that_ you marry me!" (subjunctive mood of "to marry")

"Will it as you might, I will not."

(or, alternatively, using the verb "to be" in the subjunctive mood)

"Be _that_ as it may (be)" (expressed or implied)) I shall not marry you."

"Shall they be wed?" (verb: (inf. "to be wed") "I should think it (or "think _that_ it's) unlikely."

"Though he's wont to propose it again and again, she shows herself stubbornly

opposed to the idea."

"What if she should change her mind?"

"He'd be so pleased if she should (change her mind)."

"Que sera, sera" (French, (https://medium.com/the-linguist-on-language/a-guide-to-the-french-future-tense-8f0a3272bb6d) ), though translated in the song's English version as "Whatever will be, will be," is, rather, in French, a future tense, not the subjunctive of the verb "to be" (Être (to be) (infintve)) "whatever shall be (happen), shall be" (happen)--or, another way to express the future in French is to employ the verb "to go" ("aller") just as we do in English: He's is going to ask her to marry him" "Il (he) va (present tense, "is going") la (her) demander (to ask) de se marrier. (to marry)"

In English, as in French, a "that"(with "should") is typically expressed or implied in subjunctive expressions and, in French, the "that" often comes sooner in the expression than it does in English.

"We should hope that... (something, something) should ..."

"I fear that...(something, something) should ..."

"They trust that...(something, something) should ..."

"It seems that...(something, something) should ..."

---these are all still subjunctive moods in French and, once upon a time, when English-speakers knew better and cared more for OUR LANGUAGE, they were similarly used in English.


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Thank you for this excellent discussion. One feature of the decay of "should" is its migration from a present subjunctive denoting futurity to a present indicative denoting obligation--with a resulting loss of clarity. I wonder when and how that came about? As to will and shall, there is a traditional view that shall expresses futurity in the first person, while will expresses futurity in the second and third persons. Conversely, will expresses volition in the first person, while shall expresses volition in the second and third persons. See Wilson Follett's Modern American Usage. Finally, nothing could be simpler than the distinction between who and whom, yet English speakers of English generally gave up whom more than a century ago, and today it seems to be used incorrectly more often than not. I think the so-called Oxford comma has made a come-back. Three cheers!

Wallace Stevens is sometimes quoted as saying that French and English are one language, a view that seems to underlie your comparisons.

I apologize to our host and all present for dwelling on my own tangents. I have not yet been persuaded to listen to podcasts, which are such a slow and intrusive vehicle for information compared to the written essay.

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You needn't apologize for being interested in , for caring about, something so important. (https://cityyearboston.wordpress.com/2013/11/08/the-value-of-tangents/). We're here, reading John's views, thinking about and commenting on what he has to tell us, because we care enough to do that.

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Apr 16, 2022·edited Apr 16, 2022

Thanks very much. I was referring to the fact that, in my unwillingness to listen to podcasts, I only took in as much of John's views as was stated in the title of his piece.

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Oh. Yes, now I see what you mean. You know?--I don't play the podcast either. Like you, I'd rather read.

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Apr 25, 2022·edited Apr 25, 2022

To your "I'm surprised that John gives up the territory so easily. Complexity means nuance. And there is nothing we need more than nuanced speech," I say ... (whatever the German equivalent is for our English, "Hear! Hear!")... ;^)

"Das ist ja der Sinn dieses!" (?)

If you're an ESL (English-as-a-second-language) speaker, then, for me, you have particular qualifications to speak on this matter. Simply put, ESL learners know as few native-English speakers do that, without didactic rules and structures the second-language student is essentially "at sea" (and floundering in the open water) trying to figure out for himself what constitutes "good", "proper" language usage.

Much of the history of the development of English grammar, though available in texts, is, by unfortunate necessity, left out of early primary education's treatment and teaching of grammar in speech and writing. Children from four to eight years of age aren't ready to be taught the historical contexts of their elementary grammar lessons. Equally unfortunately, they're very very unlikely to ever study these later.

By the way, "complexity" is an extremely wide and profoundly important matter across many fields of interest:

E.g. : http://arxiv.org/abs/quant-ph/0308039v1

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Just between you and I, Mr. McWhorter, why not, I see you today, I seen you yesterday? Because it hasn't earned its legitimacy? Yet? Changes in usage should percolate very, very slowly upward from the trenches. And resistance should be fierce. Just between you and I. Harold Brienes

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“We must be free or die, who speak the tongue that Shakespeare spake.” – Wordsworth (1807)

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Apr 16, 2022·edited Apr 16, 2022

... That this most famous Stream in bogs and sands

Should perish; and to evil and to good

Be lost for ever. In our halls is hung

Armoury of the invincible Knights of old:

We must be free or die, who speak the tongue

That Shakespeare spake; the faith and morals hold

Which Milton held ...

By my lights, "Shakespeare" "spake" no fewer than five languages masterfully--French, Greek, Latin and the Italian spoken in his time and his own English which he did so much to re-invent and invest with new life and wealth. It was his deserved right to do that and we ought to choose to be grateful for it rather than choose to race to some lowest-common-denominator of English usage.


"How sweet the moonlight sleeps upon this bank!

Here will we sit and let the sounds of music

Creep in our ears: soft stillness and the night

Become the touches of sweet harmony.

Sit, Jessica. Look how the floor of heaven

Is thick inlaid with patines of bright gold:

There's not the smallest orb which thou behold'st

But in his motion like an angel sings,

Still quiring to the young-eyed cherubins;

Such harmony is in immortal souls;

But whilst this muddy vesture of decay

Doth grossly close it in, we cannot hear it."


"The man that hath no music in himself,

Nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds,

Is fit for treasons, stratagems and spoils;

The motions of his spirit are dull as night

And his affections dark as Erebus:

Let no such man be trusted. Mark the music."

(Merchant of Venice, 5, i (Belmont. Avenue to PORTIA'S house))

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Apr 12, 2022·edited Apr 12, 2022

Some think they can legislate the disappearance of invidious distinctions, but they're leading people into a trap. Inability to use these words properly will be a mark of illiteracy for a long time, whatever opinion on the distinction one may hold.

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Chickens lay, people lie...literally and figuratively.

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Apr 22, 2022·edited Apr 22, 2022

What if you don't maintain your automobile? Suppose you never check the tire pressure and tread, ignore the crank-case oil, the brake-fluid, your wind-shield wipers, the brake-linings? Well, there are safety inspections which come around periodically. You could try and ignore those, too. But in that case, you risk being stopped for a violation of the law requiring that your car have a valid safety inspection sticker. So, auto maintenance is important.

And so it is, too, with building codes. Builders have to meet certain codes in the construction of residences and commercial buildings. Materials must be fit for purpose and in good condition. Doors, windows, passageways, walls, ceilings, roofs--these must meet minimum standards.

Where your language is concerned, apparently, beyond school--if, indeed, anyone there still cares--no one bothers about language-use unless, of course, one's work involves the use of good language skills. More and more, in such fields of work, formerly known standards of good practice have slipped. They're allowed to slip by a general attitude that these things don't really matter that much.

So, in journalism, medicine, law, science reports--wherever one looks, formal writing and speech has declined in its former quality and expected standards of practice. We suffer for this.

When buildings collapse or people suffer car crashes because they skipped the safety-inspection and let your auto's condition deteriorate, these are dramatic demonstrations of failures to maintain sound practices.

Socially, we don't get such indicators unless we know where to look for them:

rising illiteracy and, just as bad, de facto, functional illiteracy--that is, those whose reading and writing abilities are so poor that they aren't able to get along in their work or at school.

Language is a keystone feature of culture. Remove or weaken that enough and things suffer and eventually fail in myriad ways and places. Don't expect to see things analogous to collapsing buildings because that doesn't happen where language failings are concerned unless and until those failings reach any of multiple crisis points. At that point, it's very late to take notice and take care.

So, no, ignoring the distinctions between "lie" and "lay" shall not bring about a direct and immediate collapse of society's vital infrastructure. Things don't typically work that way where general declines in language abilities are concerned. But society is weakened, rendered less resilient, less able to sustain all sorts of shocks to the social fabric--all because people don't and cannot communicate as well as they need to be able to communicate.

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Always a fan of your work.

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If I’m writing or saying one of these, i (100% of the time) hear my grandmother in my head saying, “chickens lay, people lie”. And I’m 57 years old!

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Actually chickens are quite capable of deceit, as recent studies have found.

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I couldn't disagree with you more. When I hear someone mangle this I think they're ignorant, sloppy or I guess now, I have to suspect they may willfully be disrespecting a grammar rule and tradition. No matter which, I think it demeans the language. It brings to mind an inconsiderate guest who, though asked to dress for an event at one's house refuses to do so as a matter of principle, the host's requests, tradition, propriety, and manners be damned (they don't get invited again by me).

Complexity of nuances of meaning are not a compelling analogy.

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