John McIntyre writes a column in the Baltimore Sun's online content pages called "Leave it lay" in which he discusses the perennial difficulty of getting students to distinguish the verbs lie and lay in their writing. (See my post Lie or lay? Some disastrously unhelpful guidance for the details of the two horribly intertwined paradigms.) He recommends giving the topic a rest, since teaching it is such a dead loss as regards imparting really valuable information. And a commenter named Tom (the second commenter on the post) immediately pipes up to say this:
The point you make is indeed true, however the example of lie and lay is a curious one. In Australia, the word lie not only survives, but has not become confused with lay in the slightest. The two retain their distinct meanings more or less unabated, forming a sharp contrast to the developments in the US. I would imagine the same would be true of most other English-speaking countries and those learning English as a second language outside the US.
When will people learn that nowadays everyone can fact-check linguistic claims of this sort?
What I did was to search for "lays on the" with the added term site:.au to restrict the search to pages served from the Australian domain; and up came about 6,350 results. Some are spurious, sure (like a reference to a company that "lays on the BS pretty thick", which has transitive lay and thus does not confuse the two lexemes), but also an ample supply of examples like these:
These are intransitive occurrences of lay that every English teacher and every prescriptive grammar maven would say are "incorrect". They show the confusion is found on Australian sites just like it is on British and American ones. One could go on to gather more examples; there seems to be an ample supply.
How many would it take to convince Tom that he is utterly wrong about Australian English? I have no idea. We could probably find enough. But the deeper problem is that people simply do not understand that their intuitively-based reports concerning what they see and hear and read in their country are often drastically mistaken. It is possible today to check these things empirically with some expectation of reasonable success. But people (and this includes linguists!) still tend to think that they have veridical intuitions concerning what occurs and what does not in their linguistic milieu. Here at Language Log we have been wrong so often that we have learned to check.
[Hat tip: thanks to Mike Pope for spotting this.]