The Alphabet of Errors: L, M & N

lay and lieHave you told people a 1000 times not to use lie for lay? Are those people, after all your well-meant though prescriptive advice, still lost as to when to use the one and when the other? Do they forget your advice?

Elizabeth Richardson, about whom I earlier wrote the post The Alphabet of Errors, thought of a long-lasting solution: rhymes. In an article she sent to The English Journal in 1921, she reports of a group of senior pupils on a girls’ high school in Boston, Massachusetts who composed verses that had to help them pay attention to their speech. Standing on an assembly platform, the girls recited:

L
L is for lie
Used often as lay
An easy mistake,
But cast it away.

M
M is for may,
Twin sister of can;
Using one for the other
Is under a ban

N
N is for no,
Which often we say
Together with not
Beware, it means yea.

designed by Alanna Cavanagh (alannacavanagh.blogspot.nl)

designed by Alanna Cavanagh (alannacavanagh.blogspot.nl)

The usage problems dealt with in these rhymes (lie/lay, may/can, double negation) happen to be in the HUGE database. Though I have read quite a few usage guides by now, I haven’t come across series of poems (yet).

As I mentioned in my other post, I wonder whether similar attempts have been made to correct pupils’ speech. Would you happen to know a rhyme about a usage problem similar to the ones quoted above? Do you think they are effective?

Reference:
Richardson, E. (Oct. 1921) “The Alphabet of Errors.” The English Journal, 10.8: 472-473

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One Response to The Alphabet of Errors: L, M & N

  1. I think that rhymes and songs can be an effective way of drilling rules since they seem to be easier to remember in rhyme or song. I certainly haven’t been able to get the song Conjunction Junction from Schoolhouse Rock out of my head for a week after first hearing it when my assistant Cynthia was writing a post about it for this blog.

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