die/dye/dye it/diet

One of the topics in the textbooks this week was clothes and fashion, including hair. What’s left of my hair might fairly be described as ‘greying’ (rather than ‘grey’). I said ‘My wife wants me to dye my hair. Do you think I should?’. One student said ‘Yes, I think you should dye’ — which, of course, sounds exactly like ‘I think you should die’.

die/dye is used in at least one limerick which I could vaguely remember but couldn’t find on the internet. Fortunately, one of the limerick books I have is organised alphabetically by the last word of the first line, so I easily found it there. It runs:

Said a fair-headed maiden of Klondike,
‘Of you I’m exceedingly fond, Ike.
To prove I adore you,
I’ll dye, darling, for you,
And be a brunette, not a blonde, Ike.’

I vaguely remembered the third and fourth lines as ‘To prove that I’m true/I’d dye, dear, for you’. This limerick is probably more effective when spoken rather than when read.

There is another joke which relies on dye it/diet, which I similarly can’t find. It’s something like:

Girlfriend/wife: I don’t like my hair colour/My hair is going grey. Do you think I should dye it?
Boyfriend/husband: [something unkind about her weight]

PS It might have been the other way round:

Her: My bum is too big. I’m going to diet.
Him: What colour?

lain-back

On Tuesday a student about the difference between lay and lie. I gave a brief explanation to the effect that lay is transitive. It needs a direct object – hens lay eggs and humans lay tables. Lie is intransitive. It does not need, in fact it actively resists, a direct object – hens do not lie eggs and humans do not lie tables. (But some people use lay intransitively – Bob Dylan invites a lady to lay on his big brass bed and Gloria Gaynor’s ex-boyfriend thought she’d lay down and die, to varying degrees of horror from the purists.) I said to the student that it is very easy to get these two verbs mixed up, and many native English speakers do. (It does not help that the past simple form of lie is lay.)

By coincidence, Wednesday’s listening included the adjective laid-back, which I didn’t comment on at the time, because I knew Thursday’s lesson expanded on hyphenated adjectives. But it struck me that laid-back is built on the transitive lay-laid-laid and not the intransitive lie-lay-lain. If you are laid-back, then presumably it’s because someone or something has laid you back somewhere, and not because you have lain back somewhere. I’ve consulted several dictionaries and searched generally online, but I can’t find anything about this. Maybe the concept is reflexive: you have laid yourself back. Or maybe informal words don’t have to follow the rules of grammar.

In yesterday’s class, I briefly mentioned this to the student, then said ‘The word is laid-back, whether it comes from lay or lie’. Another student then asked about the other lie, to tell an untruth.

Memory v Memories

A few weeks ago, one topic was memory and forgetting. I decided to play the song Memories, quickly searched, and got the song Memory.

Memories isn’t a song – at least, it might be another song, but it’s not the one I was searching for. The one I was searching for is The way we were, and the first word is ‘Memories’ (or ‘Mem’ries’). The words ‘the way we were’ occur at the end of the first, second and last verses.

The song I got is Memory, and the first word is ‘Midnight’, but no-one would ever think of searching for it that way (or at least I wouldn’t). The word ‘memory’ occurs at the beginning of the second verse, and is also tucked away in the last line of the second verse and the second last line of the last verse.

memory (uncountable) refers to the general ability to remember. a memory (countable singular) refers to one thing remembered. I can have a bad memory in general, but a good memory of a particular person, thing, place or time (and vice versa). memories (countable plural) are simply more of those. In terms of computers, we only use memory. Computers don’t have memories – yet. (Replicants, on the other hand …) Continue reading

24 years old v 24 years older

Last night my wife pointed to a Youtube video about the new president of France, Emmanuel Macron, and asked ‘Did you know he married a woman 24 years old?’. I’d read headlines about ‘an older woman’, so ’24 years old’ didn’t sound right, but ’24 years older‘ didn’t sound much righter. Except she is. My wife really did know that Brigette Macron is ‘older’ and really did mean to say ‘older’, but either her pronunciation failed at the last syllable or I wasn’t paying attention.

It is perhaps more likely that a 39-year-old man would marry a woman 24 years old than a woman 24 years older. Thinking about it, I was grateful that she isn’t, for example, 15 years older than him. ‘Did you know he married a woman 15 years old?’ really doesn’t sound right.

Some time ago, she was reading about a host/judge on a cooking competition program here in Australia. She said ‘His wife is 19 years old!’ (he was then in his 40s). This is possible, but I wanted to check. The article said ‘his wife of 19 years’. (I remember, many, many years ago, being confused about this phrasing as well. It that case, it was something like ‘his wife of 13 years’.)

questions and answers

Sometimes one word can change the meaning of a question, and the (possible) answer(s) to it. The students were doing an activity in which they had to create questions from a prompt, then ask their partner. At the end I got pairs to stand up and ask and answer one of their questions. The first was ‘Which city / most like to visit and why?’. The asker of the first pair asked ‘Which city would you most like to visit and why?’ and the answerer answered ‘New York’ and gave her reasons. The asker of another pair asked ‘Which city do you most like to visit and why?’, which is an equally valid but completely different question with probably a different answer, though maybe with the same answer. (I can’t remember what the student’s answer was.) Certainly, the scope of the first question is wider: I would like to visit hundreds of cities, and I like to visit a handful. (Naturally, I might say ‘I like visiting …’, but I’ll ignore that grammatical nicety for the moment.)

Another prompt was ‘Which famous person / you like to look like? Why?’. Another asker asked ‘Which famous person would you like to look like?’ and the answerer (a young Taiwanese man) answered ‘Hermione Granger’. Putting aside the question of whether she is a ‘famous person’, there was the incongruity of a young Taiwanese man wanting to look like Emma Watson (putting aside the question of whether Hermione really looks like Emma). I asked ‘Why?’ and he answered ‘Because she knows all the answers to all the questions’. I asked ‘So you’d like to look like an English girl with long hair?’ and he realised what the question actually was. He answered ‘David Beckham’, because he’s tall, good-looking and good at football. In this activity, it is not possible to ask ‘Which famous person would you like to be like?’, because ‘look’ is given. It is also not probable to ask ‘Which famous person do you like to look like?’, unless you are interviewing a practiced impersonator.