June 14, 2006

How to get money from Geoff Pullum

As Woody Allen explained, all you have to do is show up. But as usual, there's a trick: you have to show up at the right time and place. The time is Thursday, June 15 at 5:00 p.m.; and the place is the MIT Coop, at 3 Cambridge Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts (that's right by the Kendall Square station on the T). Geoff will be there with a sack of money, handing it out to all comers.

Well, to be precise, I have to tell you that it'll be a sack of nickels and pennies. But there's a good story that goes along with the coins.

Back in May of 2004, Geoff posted some usage advice ("Lie or Lay? Some disastrously unhelpful guidance"), including a useful 6x3 table laying out the various forms and functions of lie "tell untruths", lie "be recumbent", and lay "deposit". This was one of the posts that Tom Sumner, our editor at William, James & Co., chose for the paper collection of Language Log reprints that was published last month under the title Far from the Madding Gerund. And Tom did a terrific job with the design and production of the book: as Steve at Language Hat wrote,

... this is a beautifully produced book (my hat is off to the publisher, William, James & Company): handsome, nicely laid out (with URLs and annotations in smaller-type sidebars), well indexed; hell, it even smells good. And it's actually been proofread, which seems to be viewed as an unnecessary expense by most publishers these days; the only thing I've found to raise an eyebrow at so far is the failure to change quotes-within-quotes to single quotes in this (from page 25): "A grammatical, usage or pronunciation mistake made by "correcting" something that's right to begin with. For example, use of the pronoun whom in 'Whom shall I say is calling?'" But that's extremely small potatoes.

However, a couple of weeks ago, a reader pointed to us that on p. 179 of the book, someone somehow swapped the first two column labels on the crucial lie/lie/lay table (though it was, and is, correct in the weblog version). As a result, the advice is really and truly "disastrously unhelpful" — if you allow yourself to be guided by the table as printed in the book, you'll say that Bill Clinton "lay" (rather than "lied") when he said "I did not have sex with that woman", and you'll say that John Dean once accused George W. Bush of having "lain" (rather than "lied") about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

Well, the error has been corrected in the second printing (due soon), and Tom Sumner is off suicide watch (though it was a near thing), and in a close vote, the LSA executive committee has decided not to rescind Pullum's 2003 Leonard Bloomfield book award. But the Language Log marketing department has been in an uproar over how to apply our famous quality guarantee to this case: "your subscription price cheerfully refunded in case of less than total satisfaction". The conclusion was that there are 376 pages in the book, so 1/376 of everybody's money should be returned on the assumption that a page with an error like this is worthless even if not dangerous. 1/376 of the book's list price is 5.85 cents -- if you got it at Amazon's current discount price, the corresponding amount is about 3.8 cents.

So if you show up tomorrow (Thursday, June 15) at 5:00 at the MIT Coop, Geoff will give you $.06 if you paid list price, and $.04 if you got the discount. Bring in your copy, and he'll correct the error by hand.

OK, seriously, what's really happening is that the MIT Coop is having a reading and book signing for Far from the Madding Gerund:

Place: MIT Coop, at 3 Cambridge Center, Cambridge, MA — that's on Main Street, across from one exit from the Kendall Square (MIT) T station (and as Quantum of Wantum has pointed out, actually right on top of another exit).
Time: 5:00 p.m., Thursday, June 15

Do show up if you're in the area. Geoff is as funny in person as he is on paper. And he really will bring a bag of nickels and pennies. First come, first served.

Posted by Mark Liberman at June 14, 2006 05:11 PM