The Language Perfectionist: Lie Down When You Read This One

What’s wrong with this sentence?

“How pleasant to lie prone on one’s back on the cool grass, and gaze upward through the shady green canopy of boughs….”

The word prone means lying on one’s stomach, face down. Thus, “prone on one’s back” is a physical impossibility, even for a contortionist!

Here’s how to distinguish among adjectives that describe various reclining postures:

  • prone: lying face down
  • supine: lying face up
  • prostrate: lying face down, or at full length; can imply submission or humiliation
  • recumbent: lying in a position of comfort or rest
    Finally — and this could be important — don’t confuse prostrate with prostate. This is a surprisingly common error, as indicated by the following example: “As men get older, the prostrate gland can cause quite a few problems…”
[Ed Note: For more than three decades, Don Hauptman was an award-winning independent direct-response copywriter and creative consultant. He is author of The Versatile Freelancer, an e-book that shows writers and other creative professionals how to diversify their careers into speaking, consulting, training, and critiquing.]

Don Hauptman was an award-winning independent direct-response copywriter and creative consultant for more than 30 years. He may be best known for his headline “Speak Spanish [French, German, etc.] Like a Diplomat!” This familiar series of ads sold spectacular numbers of recorded foreign language lessons for Audio-Forum, generating revenues that total in the tens of millions of dollars. In the process, the ad achieved the status of an industry classic. Don’s work is mentioned in three major college advertising textbooks, and examples of his promotions are cited in the books Million Dollar Mailings (1992) and World's Greatest Direct Mail Sales Letters (1996). In a column in Advertising Age, his name was included in a short list of direct-marketing “superstars.” He has a parallel career as a writer on language and wordplay. His celebration of spoonerisms, Cruel and Unusual Puns (Dell, 1991), received rave reviews and quickly went into a second printing. His second book was Acronymania (Dell, 1993). Recently, Don retired from full-time copywriting in order to focus on other interests, including his passion for “recreational linguistics.” He is at work on a new book in that genre. He is a regular contributor to the magazine Word Ways and writes “The Language Perfectionist,” a weekly column on grammar and usage, for Early to Rise. Don is author of The Versatile Freelancer,an e-book from American Writers and Artists, Inc. (AWAI) that shows copywriters – and almost anyone – how to diversify their careers into consulting, training, critiquing, and speaking.