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Is “As I Lay Dying” Grammatically Incorrect?

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Musician Sufjan Stevens recently jumped on the “open letter to Miley Cyrus” bandwagon with a tongue-in-cheek critique of her grammar in the song “Get It Right.” He expresses specific concern over the line “I been laying in this bed all night long.” He notes that the “lay” form “should only be used when there is an object, i.e. ‘I been laying my tired booty in this bed all night long.’”

So far, so good. In basic terms, “lay” is for situations where something is set down by something else—“I lay the papers on the desk,” “Lay down your weapons.” If you’re talking about something just being there in a set down position, the verb is the intransitive “lie”—“Now the papers lie there in a pile,” “Now the weapons lie on the ground.”

Sufjan is also right to tell Cyrus not to worry, that “we all make mistakes.” The lay/lie distinction is one of those grammar dinosaurs that even the most pedantically uptight sticklers have trouble with sometimes. Sufjan reassures her that “even Faulkner messed it up.”

But did he? The comment links to a blog entry from the AMA Manual of Style on Faulkner’s use of “lay.” Though at first it may seem that the title of Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying is incorrect (what could be more intransitive than someone lying there dying?), the entry points out that here “lay” is actually the correct past tense of “lie.” (I know. Could these rules make it any more complicated?) So there is nothing wrong with the title.

What the article takes issue with is a sentence from the novel “you lay you down and rest you.” Obviously, this is in the vernacular and not to be taken as textbook grammatical, and yes, “the correct form of the sentence would use the intransitive verb: ‘You lie down.’” But here, even within the context of this non-standard dialect, Faulkner follows the rule. The verb “lay” does take an object in “you lay you down,” and the object is “you.” Not much different from “now I lay me down to sleep,” a sentence even the strictest red pen will pass over without a second glance.

So let’s leave Faulkner out of this. If you want, you can take it up with Bob Dylan (“Lay Lady Lay”) or Eric Clapton (“Lay Down Sally”). But it’s probably time we all just laid our tired bootys down and started focusing on more important matters, such as, what is the proper plural of “booty”?

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How Are Royal Babies Named?
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Jack Taylor, Getty Images

After much anticipation, England's royal family has finally received a tiny new addition. The birth of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge's second son was confirmed by Kensington Palace on April 23, but the name of the royal newborn has yet to be announced. For the heir to the British throne and his wife, choosing a name for their third child—who is already fifth in line to the throne—likely won't be as easy as flipping through a baby name book; it's tradition for royals to select names that honor important figures from British history.

According to ABC WJLA, selecting three or four names is typical when naming a royal baby. Will and Kate followed this unwritten rule when naming their first child, George Alexander Louis, and their second, Charlotte Elizabeth Diana. Each name is an opportunity to pay homage to a different British royal who came before them. Some royal monikers have less savory connotations (Prince Harry's given name, Henry, is reminiscent of a certain wife-beheading monarch), but typically royal babies are named for people who held a significant and honorable spot in the family tree.

Because there's a limited pool of honorable monarchs from which to choose, placing bets on the royal baby name as the due date approaches has become a popular British pastime. One name that keeps cropping up this time around is James; the original King James ruled in the early 17th century, and it has been 330 years since a monarch named James wore the crown.

If the royal family does go with James for the first name of their youngest son, that still leaves at least a couple of slots to be filled. So far, the couple has stuck with three names each for their children, but there doesn't seem to be a limit; Edward VIII, who abdicated the throne to George VI in 1936, shouldered the full name of Edward Albert Christian George Andrew Patrick David.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Why Does the Queen Have Two Birthdays?
CHRIS JACKSON, AFP/Getty Images
CHRIS JACKSON, AFP/Getty Images

On April 21, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II will turn 92 years old. To mark the occasion, there are usually a series of gun salutes around London: a 41 gun salute in Hyde Park, a 21 gun salute in Windsor Great Park, and a 62 gun salute at the Tower of London. For the most part, the monarch celebrates her big day privately. But on June 9, 2018, Her Majesty will parade through London as part of an opulent birthday celebration known as Trooping the Colour.

Queen Elizabeth, like many British monarchs before her, has two birthdays: the actual anniversary of the day she was born, and a separate day that is labeled her "official" birthday (usually the second Saturday in June). Why? Because April 21 is usually too cold for a proper parade.

The tradition started in 1748, with King George II, who had the misfortune of being born in chilly November. Rather than have his subjects risk catching colds, he combined his birthday celebration with the Trooping the Colour.

The parade itself had been part of British culture for almost a century by that time. At first it was strictly a military event, at which regiments displayed their flags—or "colours"—so that soldiers could familiarize themselves. But George was known as a formidable general after having led troops at the Battle of Dettingen in 1743, so the military celebration seemed a fitting occasion onto which to graft his warm-weather birthday. Edward VII, who also had a November birthday, was the first to standardize the June Trooping the Colour and launched a tradition of a monarchical review of the troops that drew crowds of onlookers.

Even now, the date of the "official" birthday varies year to year. For the first seven years of her reign, Elizabeth II held her official birthday on a Thursday but has since switched over to Saturdays. And while the date is tied to the Trooping the Colour in the UK, Commonwealth nations around the world have their own criteria, which generally involve recognizing it as a public holiday.

Australia started recognizing an official birthday back in 1788, and all the provinces (save one) observe the Queen's Birthday on the second Monday in June, with Western Australia holding its celebrations on the last Monday of September or the first Monday of October.

In Canada, the official birthday has been set to align with the actual birth date of Queen Victoria—May 24, 1819—since 1845, and as such they celebrate so-called Victoria Day on May 24 or the Monday before.

In New Zealand, it's the first Monday in June, and in the Falkland Islands the actual day of the Queen's birth is celebrated publicly.

All in all, just another reason it's great to be Queen.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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