May 03, 2005

Laying in the past

A reader named Kelly pointed out to us that as of 1 p.m. Eastern today, despite many urgent email requests, the CNN main news page was showing a Technology News headline link saying:

Clues to future may lay in past
Climate change could have drastic consequences

Grammar change could have drastic consequences too! As Kelly has pointed out to these people, lay is the transitive verb, not the intransitive one. (That is, you lay carpet or eggs, and you lay down the law; then when you're tired you lie across a big brass bed. Those are the rules. So those clues to the future lie in the past. Where are the copy editors when we need them?) Kelly was frantic: was nothing going to be done? Do these CNN types care nothing about vital lexemic distinctions? This issue has been carefully treated on Language Log, in a post offering a disastrously confusing account of the situation, but no one is listening. It is time for something to be done. Readers concerned to preserve confusing English irregular verb lexeme distinctions should start calling CNN on the phone to complain. (No, of course I don't know the number. Big websites never give phone numbers any more. They don't want you to call them. They want you to just fumble around clicking on stuff.)

The headline of the archived version of the story was eventually changed to "Past may hold clues to climate's future", so don't look for the erroneous version now.

Posted by Geoffrey K. Pullum at May 3, 2005 01:17 PM