Seniors: The Grumpy Gramarian – Return of the ‘anti-faddist’

Our “finicky anti-faddist,” Dorothy Seiberling, returns to “Island Seniors” this week. She is back on the Rock after a brief vacation in Italy with her beloved mate Sidney Siber.

Just when you thought you might have a nice long holiday, free from lectures on words and grammar, along comes the finicky anti-faddist again. And what’s her hangup this time? Not a fad, but a misuse of a word. The word is “lay.”

If you keep your ears “peeled,” you’ll hear people say “I’m going to lay down on the bed.” The literal translation of that would tell you that they are laying a fluffy covering on the bed.

Of course, what they mean to say is “lie down,” but they got the tense (or the word) wrong.

“Lay” and “lie” are tricky. You can lie awake at night and think about what you want to lay away for your children.

You can lay down your arms and surrender, or you can lie down on the job and get fired.

Or you can just sing “How are things in Glocca-Morra, too-ray-ee-lay,” and hope the word wonks and grammar guardians will fade away.


Readers continue to call in their reports of grammatical lapses or other linguistic anomalies.

• From Brenda B. of Lake Drive: She is much peeved by the confusion between “who’s” and “whose” as in “Knock, knock: whose there?”

Most of us know that “who’s” is the contraction for “who is” and “whose” is the possessive form of the pronoun “who” as in “Whose woods these are I think I know.”*

So, Brenda, you and I would answer the knock on the door with “Who’s (who is) there?” All those replying “whose” are doomed from here to eternity.

• From Peter V. of Cobbetts Lane: A challenging question delivered in person aboard the 6:45 a.m. ferry to Greenport Saturday morning. How do we choose between the words “eager” and “anxious” to describe, for example, an anticipated event? My Random House unabridged dictionary cites two definitions that pertain to the question. The first describes a mental condition full of anxiety or distress; the second describes a mental condition that is earnestly desirous or eager.

So Peter, we could choose “anxious” when we are in mental distress or “anxious” when we are eager. But I still like your decision to use “anxious” when we are full of anxiety and “eager” when we are “earnestly desirous.” Perhaps, Peter, we should wait to  hear from the readers on this subject.

• From the Grumpy Grammarian: A local “woman of letters” recently said, “I feel badly about global warming.” I thought I detected a serious grammatical lapse, but I was wrong. In informal usage, “badly,” an adverb, becomes an adjective. I feel badly that I ever questioned your usage, dear friend.

I will continue to take your calls, at 749-0751. No grammatical lapse on Shelter Island should go unreported. I learn something new, thanks to you, every month. — M.B.

*This quote is from the Robert Frost poem, “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening.”