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Laid and lain

June 6, 2014

Recently re-reading Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop – and a great pleasure it was, too – I was taken aback to read, on page 190, the line: “On such a night as this, not four weeks back, the tin roofs of Jacksonburg had laid open to the sky…”

Laid? Evelyn, Evelyn, Evelyn, surely you must have known that should be lain? If even a writer as sensitive to words as Waugh can get this wrong, what hope is there? Lain wouldn’t merely be correct, but much more euphonious. I’ve always thought it’s a lyrical-sounding word, as evidenced by the lovely line in Leonard Cohen’s “The Master Song”: “I have lain by this window long enough, you get used to an empty room”. Laid would be more than wrong there, it would be ugly. (And by a curious coincidence, the French word for “ugly” is laid.)

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  1. I wonder if ‘had’ is not a typo.. if perchance he meant to talk about rooftops laid open to the sky …by something …

  2. Adam Stephenson permalink

    I have just had the same reaction. It’s a Penguin typo (“lain” in other editions), perhaps prompted by the perfectly correct “laid” four lines earlier. There’s another on p. 71 : “hugged” for “chugged”.

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