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.

He is walking

Yesterday, one of my Facebook friends posted this video. I decided to use it to start yesterday’s lesson with a review of verbs, nouns, adjectives, adverbs and prepositions. The simplest sentence to describe the video is ‘He is walking’, and one student supplied ‘on a machine’ (none of them knew ‘treadmill’).

From there, some gaits are better described by a verb (He is V-ing), a noun (He is walking like a(n) NP), an adjective (He is walking a(n) adj walk,* He is walking like he is adj, or He is walking like (he is) a(n) adj person), an adverb (He is walking adv-ly) or a prepositional phrase (He is walking in a(n) adj way, or He is walking with NP). There are sometimes too many choices. Some verbs and nouns have the same form, and some can be changed to adjectives or adverbs. The first gait in the video is sneak, so we could say: He is sneaking, He is walking like a sneak, He is walking a sneaky walk,* He is walking like he is sneaky, He is walking like a sneaky person, He is walking sneakily and He is walking in a sneaky way. (Is sneak a verb first, or a noun first, or both at the same time?) Some words are less flexible: ballerina is clearly a noun, so we can only say He is walking like a ballerina, not, for example, *He is ballerina-ing or *He is walking ballerina-ly (though people are very creative about verbing or adverbing nouns).

The performer is Kevin Parry, who has a longer version, without music, on his Youtube channel.

* This construction is possibly the most awkward, but we quite happily say (or sing) things like To dream the impossible dream.

‘The way I are’

I recently stumbled on a song with the questionable grammar ‘the way I are’. (Any resemblance to ‘the way we were’ in my last post is purely coincidental.) If this is part of any recognised variety of English, I haven’t encountered it before. In searching for more information, I found another song with the same grammar, and those two appear to be the only occurrences on the internet, so I must conclude that it’s not part of any recognised variety of English which has ever been posted on the internet. The first few pages of search results were references to one or other of these songs, then came ‘about 897,000,000′ results of one, two, three or all of those words in some combination or order.

One writer wrote ”Cause I like you just the way you are … Can you handle me the way I are?’, the other ‘Don’t matter who you are, just love me the way I are’. This is not a ‘mistake’, because both writers chose to do it, and I’m sure they’re aware that it’s ‘wrong’. For every other verb in English than be, you and I are followed the same verb form: ”Cause I like you just the way you eat … Can you handle me the way I eat?’ or ‘Don’t matter who you eat, just love me the way I eat‘. (Sorry, I’ve still got eating pizzas on my mind from two posts ago. (There are increasingly risqué and indeed outright rude alternative verbs.))

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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

Korean movie – A melody to remember, revisited

Twice last year I saw the Korean movie 오빠 생각 (o-ppa saeng-gak, Thoughts of my older brother or Thinking of my older brother, titled in English A melody to remember) once in a cinema in Korea (without English subtitles) and once on the aeroplane returning to Australia (with English subtitles), and blogged about it here and here.

I occasionally browse through a language bookshop in the Sydney CBD. Some months ago, sometime after I returned to Australia I saw a book called something like Korean Songs and Stories. One of the songs is Thinking of Older Brother, which provides the title, but not the story, of the movie. (The song dates from the Japanese occupation; the movie is set during the Korean war.) The background to the song is:

During the Japanese occupation of Korea (1910-1945), eleven-year-old Choi Sun Ae’s brother went to Seoul to buy shoes and never returned, inspiring her to write these lyrics. The cheerful music – written by Park Tae Jun – may seem like a strange contrast to the sad words, but during the occupation the Japanese prohibited songs that were negative or depressing in nature. Having a relatively “happy” melody was a way of masking mournful sentiments.

I didn’t want to buy the book for one song (though I might have been able to make use of the other ones), so I surreptitiously took a photo of this song. Unfortunately I can’t credit the editor and publisher. I am posting this now, some months after finding that book, because I’ve just been sorting through old photos.


goodest and baddest grammar

Most English have adjectives have comparative (-er or more/less) and superlative (-est or most/least) forms. The three major irregular adjectives are good-better-best, bad-worse-worst and far-further-furthest. One student wrote farer and farest. I said ‘Those are clear and fit the pattern, but we’ve got these special words further and further’. No-one wrote or said gooder, goodest, badder or baddest. I commented that those are clear and fit the pattern as well, but badder and baddest sound slightly better than gooder and goodest. Jim Croce calls Leroy Brown ‘The baddest man in the whole damned town / Badder than old King Kong’, not ‘The worst man … Worse than King King’. The spell-checker in Pages for Mac accepts badder and baddest, but not gooder and goodest. (It also accepts farer. I assume that’s related to fare (farer – ?a paying customer/traveller) not far. Compare wayfarer. The spell-checker in WordPress accepts badder and baddest, but not gooder, goodest or farer.) (Possibly, the regular adjective forms of far should be farrer and farrest, but it’s not necessary to decide.)

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heatable, heatful

I don’t like students depending on dictionaries in class (in fact, I don’t like them using dictionaries at all), for several reasons, another of which I might write about in a future post. Last night the students were practicing changing nouns into adjectives and vice versa (for the sake of completeness, I also added the appropriate verbs and adverbs). Most nouns change to adjectives and vice versa by the addition or subtraction of a suffix. However, there is a group of words which are clearly related but include other changes (long > length, strong > strength etc), sometimes enough to classify them as two  different words (poor > poverty).

One word was heat, for which most students had no trouble finding hot. (Though one student wrote tropical.) Another student then said ‘What about heatable and heatful?’. I said ‘What?!’. He pointed at the dictionary app on his phone. I said approximately ‘Well, I understand I those words but I’ve never seen or heard them in my life. Forget them. If you’ve ever got a choice between hot, heatable and heatful, keep it short and simple, and choose hot.’
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