Here is Page 6 of Best Buy’s 2013/2014 furniture catalog, an expensive-looking proposition—30 pages, four colors, heavy paper stock—that’s distributed in retail stores.
I’ve boosted the photo’s contrast, but it may still be hard to read. Here’s a close-up:
“Lay back & relax.”
For the record, it should be Lie back & relax. (I’m not crazy about the ampersand, either, but Best Buy appears to be fond of it.)
Yes, yes: lay and lie, like other irregular verbs, are hard to keep straight. (Mostly for native English speakers. I’ve noticed that people for whom English is a second or third language have very little trouble remembering the conjugations.) Yes, even college-educated people say “lay back” (and “I laid back”) all the time. And yes, English will probably, someday, merge lie and lay—languages do that sort of thing all the time.*
But for now, we still have the lie/lay distinction. And we also hold published writing from a voice of authority** to a different standard than spoken utterances. I keep quiet when my Pilates instructor tells me to “lay back [sic] one vertebrae [sic] at a time,” as she does with impressive consistency, but I’d correct her if she wrote that sentence on her website and asked me to edit it.
So I don’t excuse Best Buy, just as I didn’t excuse the Hanes Lay Flat Collar (see “Hot Under the Collar” and “The Case of the Lay Flat Collar”) or Speed Sleep (“Lay to Rest”) or Back2Life (“Laying Down the Law”).
Not only did Best Buy make an error so common any trained proofreader should have caught it, the company also missed an opportunity for a catchier, more alliterative headline: Recline and Relax.
Here’s Grammar Girl on lay and lie (and laid and lain). And here’s my own oversimplified mnemonic: lie has the same vowel sound as the stressed syllable of recline; lay has the same vowel sound as place.
* “When proper usage gets in the way, it may have to go” – Elmore Leonard—but he was referring to fictional narrative. Proper usage doesn’t get in the way of Best Buy’s message (“You need this $2,299 seating group”).
** Best Buy: 1,150 stores in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and China; $49 billion in revenue in 2012.