Jeremy Stein - Journal

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I blame my mother

You could say it’s society’s fault. I could have been helped by teachers or school counselors. Perhaps adults in the church could have seen what was happening and intervened. But ultimately the blame lies on the person who was directly responsible for raising me: my mother.

No doubt the same thing happened to her when she was growing up. So perhaps I should blame my grandparents. Or my great-grandparents, or whoever started this cruel abuse. But again, they are not directly responsible. My mother was an adult and should have known better.

I will not follow in her footsteps. I am determined to end the cycle. I don’t know how my brother has handled it; he never talks about it. I can only assume that he is doing the same thing to his daughter, but I can hope. Perhaps if I find the strength to overcome, he will too.

My mother is an abuser. An abuser of the English language. In her speech, she showed utter contempt for the conjugation of “lie” and “lay”. By the time I reached high school English, I had no idea that “lay” was two different words: present transitive and past intransitive. I tried to learn the rules, but with so many other things to occupy my mind, and an ear that was so badly afflicted, I just fell back on my old habits.

Now with my own children’s ears in their sensitive grammatical development phase, I made a point of learning the correct conjugation and employing it.

Meaning Present Past
Deceive lie lied
Recline lie lay
Put lay laid

The chief difficulty is that “lay/laid” is a much more natural conjugation than “lie/lay”, particularly since we know that “lay” can be present tense and our brains are pretty sure that the past tense of “lie” is “lied”. After our first wrist-smack for saying “I lie the book on the table”, we learn to switch to “lay”. In fact, one can plead the reflexive form and convince oneself that “I lay [myself] on the couch” is correct. That’s my theory as to why this abuse is so widespread. I’ve overheard many people butchering “lay”. Is this a regional phenomenon? or is it more widespread? My wife suffered from the same grammatical mistreatment; her mother is from Florida. All I know is that I can’t allow it to continue where I have influence.

With the help of counseling, I’ve memorized the correct conjugation. I understand the difference between transitive and intransitive verbs. The problem is that one cannot parse a sentence as quickly as one can speak it. So, I have a mind trick. Not quite worthy of a Jedi, but perhaps potent enough to counteract the years of abuse.

When I assume a position, I may stand, sit or lie. Then I stood, sat or lay. There is no ambiguity in my mind about “sit/sat”. It conveniently has the same “i/a” conjugation. So, whenever I want to mention the position of lying, I think of sitting and just use whichever middle vowel the sit dictates. I want to say “I’m tired. I think I’ll [lie/lay] down for a while.” While those first five words are coming out, I switch it to “sit”, notice it matches “lie”, and swap in the correct word before it comes out of my mouth, lest I continue the cycle of abuse.

I’m definitely still in recovery. Sometimes I pause before using a word that I had for so many years misapplied, but I always try to get it right before it comes out. I take the time for the sake of my children. For the sake of that young Jeremy who suffered again and again until it seemed normal. I never want that to happen again and as much as it is in my power, it won’t. I’m gaining confidence and I’m starting to feel like it might be normal to lie down again. I’ll never completely recover from what my mother did to me, but at least I can know that I’m not overcome by it, and I can avoid being an abuser.

Thanks for listening.


I’m sure my mother is horrified by this article. Clearly if there was any abuse in this relationship, it was in the opposite direction as I exploit her innocence for your amusement. Sorry, Mom. (But apparently not sorry enough to delete this article.)

November 6, 2006 4 Comments.


  1. Jeremy replied:

    There’s a similar trick for an even more widespread abuse: “who/whom” for subject and object. When one pedantically splits an adverbial particle to avoid ending a sentence with a preposition, “whom” often sounds natural, but unfortunately takes on the airs of affectation with its grandiloquently isolated preposition. “With whom I’ll dine” or “who I’ll meet for lunch”. The latter is incorrect, but “whom I’ll meet for lunch” sounds pretentious to some. I wish to reclaim it for the common man by using it in the banal and prosaic conversation of everyday. My trick in this case is to substitute “he/him”. “Him I’ll meet for lunch” sounds right; I must need an “m” at the end of the preposition: “whom I’ll meet for lunch”. (If you think I’m being sexist, try the female preposition and notice how your feminism backfires.)

    November 6th, 2006 at 12:45 pm. Permalink.

  2. Duane replied:

    Very funny!
    I must confess do not share this heavy burden for alas I’m busy worrying about the really important issues of life. Heavy environmental waste issues like for example the “Recycle Belly Button Lint” campaign. This issue is completely ignore in the main stream media. I did a google search and found no significant references to this issue, what it is going to take to wake this world up!

    November 18th, 2006 at 9:12 am. Permalink.

  3. joan hershberger replied:

    Wow! And all I am trying to do is to deal with the overuse of “ain’t” and the sentences that end with the word ‘with.’ As in “May I go with?”
    With what … joy, sadness, the dog, the cat?
    I thought it was a fluke one child’s poor grammatical construct, but of late I am beginning to hear it in spoken media.
    So may I have a dialogue with?

    December 7th, 2006 at 11:36 am. Permalink.

  4. Also a child once replied:

    If all you have to complain about your mother is verb conjugation, you are doing pretty well!

    September 14th, 2016 at 4:56 pm. Permalink.

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