Today I finished a book I had been looking forward to reading, and in fact the book had been a Christmas gift from my daughter, making me savor its reading all the more. I won’t name the book, though, because however much I enjoyed it—and I enjoyed it immensely—there was an incorrect usage throughout.
And it rankled.
The book repeatedly used “laying” when it should have used “lying,” and each time I came across one of these instances I was taken out of the book, the narrative spell broken by an inattentive copy editor. To be fair, the rest of the book was remarkably clean, and “lay vs. lie” issues are understandably difficult.
But with the price of hardcover editions, you have the right to expect better.
Lay means “to put” or “to place,” and its forms are lay, laid, laid, laying. Lay also requires an object to complete its meaning (a chicken lays an egg; I laid the envelope on the table).
Lie means “to recline” or “to take a position of rest,” and its forms are lie, lay, lain, lying (I need to lie down; he was lying on the ground).
A good trick is to substitute the appropriate form of the word place for the corresponding form of lay or lie, and if it makes sense, then you know to use lay (for example, being able to say “I placed the envelope on the table” lets you know that you should use a form of lay).
It isn’t the easiest thing in the world to keep straight, especially for those who couldn’t give a rat’s arse, and especially considering that the matter is further confused by lay being the past tense of lie.
Still, mastering the correct usage of lay and lie is well worth the trouble and may even win you a nod of approval from those who notice such things.
At the very least, keeping these troublesome words straight will prevent you from irritating your audience, and whoever your audience is, you don’t ever want to inadvertently provide an excuse to quit reading.
To wrap up, I’ll mention that the title of this blog entry is a reference to a novella from the fantastically talented horror and crime writer Tom Piccirilli. I only used the title because it’s one I like (especially the full title; go look it up!)—to be clear, it wasn’t his book that had the incorrect usage.
I’ll also mention that last week I returned the book-giving favor to my daughter by attending a Karen Russell book signing and landing my daughter a signed edition of the Pulitzer-nominated Swamplandia! (Lest anyone think I’m more selfless than is really the case, I also had Russell’s new collection, Vampires in the Lemon Grove, signed for myself.)