MARTHA SEZ: ‘It hurts me, like the sound of sled runners on cement’

Last August, I bought a car. The next day, a detached retina confined me to my apartment for two months. Then, last month, the coronavirus stay-at-home order grounded me again. I am still trying to get used to the car.

My old Honda Fit was 11 years old and at the stage when as soon as one problem is fixed, another problem makes itself known. The muffler falls off. You get a new muffler, only to learn that the linkage needs work. As you drive away from the garage, the person who fixed your linkage helpfully calls out that your shocks are shot. Or maybe it’s your struts. After you have gone through several more months having various parts replaced or tinkered with, your new muffler falls off.

People of my generation can relate to this kind of thing. Knee replacements, for example, are said to last only 10 years.

My steering wheel was making creaking noises.

“It’s probably just a bushing,” said the garage owner.

“Oh, yes,” I agreed, nodding thoughtfully. Had you been there, you would have thought I knew what a bushing was.

We all have our areas of expertise. You might know everything about fly fishing, for example. You might know all about the flora and fauna of the river and the effects of sand and salt on their environment, and you might have the rules and regulations for fishing in your state committed to memory. You might know when trout are likely to bite, what kind of fly to tie for every occasion and how to tie it. You might also know what a bushing is, but then again you might not.

“What is a defibulater?” someone may ask a healthcare provider.

“A defibrillator may be external, transvenous or implanted,” the healthcare provider begins, and already the questioner’s eyes are glazing over, and he is back to thinking about fishing. He was only asking the question in order to be polite, after all. He may never need to know what a defibrillator is. Plenty of time to learn, if and when the day comes.

English has always been my favorite subject. I am not saying that I’m above making mistakes.

“Oh, so you’re a grammar fascist?” someone recently asked me for some unknown reason. No, quite the opposite. I don’t expect everyone to be correct in his or her diction.

Sometimes, though, it bothers me when people put apostrophes before the s on a plural word, as in, “Guess how many jellybean’s are in that jar.” It hurts me, like the sound of sled runners on cement.

How many times have your children brought home notes from school–back before the pandemic, when children were actually going to school– with such statements as, “The ancient Egyption’s used slave labor to build the pyramid’s?”

I hardly even notice anymore when people confuse the verbs to lie and to lay. In fact, because of common usage, it may no longer be considered incorrect to use the two interchangeably.

The verb to lay always takes an object; you lay something down. Lay, laid, had laid.

The verb to lie is a different word altogether. It does not take an object. Example: “When I hear you say you are going to go lay out in the sun I feel that I have to go lie down.” Lie, lay, had lain.

My sister had a neighbor, Dan McGee, who was constantly yelling at his dog, Benjy, “Go lay down! Go lay down!”

Benjy would just stand there, as if he couldn’t fathom what on earth McGee was talking about. My sister knew that Benjy was first owned by an English major and would respond only to the command “Go lie down.” After she explained this to McGee, he began to tell Benjy to go lie down, with excellent results. When McGee forgot–old habits are hard to break–we would hear him bellowing “Go lay down!” at the top of his lungs, and my sister would have to yell across the yard “Lie down! Go lie down!” This always worked.

I recently heard a television newscaster say “The new courthouse was builded,” and a well-respected contemporary novelist wrote “The boat tipped over and sunk in the water.” Come on, communicators! Build, built, built! Sink, sank, sunk! You’re killing me.

By the way, I did google bushing. Turns out it’s a little metal slidey thing. I took my car back to the garage to be fixed.

“What was the problem?” I asked the mechanic.

“Power steering mounting bracket,” he said. “When you start to hear a hammering noise, bring it back.”

“Ah, yes. The mounting bracket,” I said.

Have a good week.