This started as a comment on Facebook that just got out of hand. It was a response to a friend who was expressing her annoyance with people on TV saying “lay” for “lie.”
Grammar and usage are fluid and complicated things. There is often a structure underneath what we say. For example, this page elegantly explains the lie/lay confusion.
My number one peeve in this area is a homophonic transfer: it’s/its EVERYBODY does it. All groups of people, I mean. Harvard to high school. Twitch, twitch.
Number two is a mispronunciation: noo-cue-ler
‘k; weighing in here with my stupid: I was raised speaking Standard with such fluency that I just blew off the grammar lessons in grade school bc I A’d the tests anyway. Grew up; had husband whack with dead fish re comma splices. Only really learned formal grammar in Latin. (Oh brave new world!!!) I still have to look it up when I have to explain to somebody just why it’s so. (Did you know that there’s an order to adjectives? And it’s close to the pentatonic scale in intuitiveness for native speakers? I digress.) Every once in a while grammatical uh, um, creativity was nabbed in the dissertation. Sigh.
Anyway, part of the problem with TV is the increasing acceptance of colloquial regionalisms. “Lay” and “lie” just work that way for some people. Proper English? meh. It comes from the same area of the country clever enough to realize we need a second person plural. Proper English? meh. But a syntactical line drive down center.
And as for those of us above DC: Quick! When there’s a queue at the bank, you stand . . . . Everybody but NY says *in* line. Where we shut the lights, get on the train with carfare, and pronounce it RADiator. (Not RAYdiator. Ayyy!) Where we give ya a little whack on the arm with the back of one hand to get your attention.
And my God, how do other areas of the country convey “schmuck,” “tsuris,” “agita,” and all the other bits New Yorkese (yes!) borrows? We have more ways of communicating with bad drivers in sign than anywhere else in the universe.
I realized two things while in college: One, that non-New Yorkers were like, “what’s up with the schmuck thing?” and two, that I had to dumb down my spoken English, because it was perceived as intimidating/snobbish. I even picked up Urban as a second language. To my surprise, I’m still perceived as intimidating. 😦
Start observing how awkward it can sound when you stop dangling prepositions in speech. Know why sometimes “the” is “thee” and sometimes it’s “thuh?” Dialect/creole/language? ooh it’s so-oo-oo much fun!
But enough of that, because now I have to go make some written English of my own. (No, not this blog, silly. This continues under the head of “stalling.”)
And that’s part of why this topic kindled such an interest for me–I had put all my novel in the 1st person of a fairly colloquial narrator, who alternates between past/present chapters. When deservedly biffed by my main reader, I realized I had to put the present chapters in 3d person, so as to convey info that Terry just doesn’t know. You’d think (well, I’d think. Thought. Whadevah.) that the pronoun change was the most of it–but no.
There are so many other changes. 3d person is much more formal, simply because you’re generally not having a conversation with the reader. (Break that barrier very gingerly, friends.) Also, even when you’re talking about an ongoing condition for a fictional people, using the present tense immediately brings you back to a more conversational mode, instead of the past tense, which is more . . . what? There are terms for this; always terms and words. But how to find them? Aphasia or a lexical lacuna?
I was amused to find that there’s even a label for the English I speak now: It’s called “rich” English. I suppose that’s accurate–it’s a semi-deliberate fusion of academic with urban, with splashes of gamer-geek and phrases from a number of professional mini-expressions: Fuck to the no. (Uh, “fuck no,” if that weren’t obvious. ) pwned. Made my saving throw. Non-trivial. And then there’s “lexical lacuna” and its like. Heh.
(Fuck no! I am not either pwned by my own sniping unconscious! After this was posted, I made my saving throw and fixed the if-were above back from *shudder* if-was. An error I usually consider non-trivial (because I’m a schmuck who has too much agita about stuff like that). Clearly, I myself have fallen into my self-created lexical lacuna.)
I talk this way because it amuses me. I write this way because it amuses me; and it gets the job done: Trying to communicate the best way I possibly can. I mean, when it’s not just devolving into self-referential gibberish. But that’s what readers are for: to show we writers to ourselves.
(Didja twitch there? Huh? Huh? bwah ha ha)