"laying a predicate"

Chris Waigl chris at LASCRIBE.NET
Mon Oct 20 01:36:41 UTC 2008

On Sun, 19 Oct 2008 20:13:24 -0400, Benjamin Zimmer
<bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU> wrote:
> On Sun, Oct 19, 2008 at 8:08 PM, Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at yale.edu>
> wrote:
>>>  >From today's interview of John McCain by Chris Wallace.
>>>"We know that when you have unlimited amounts of money - in this
>>>case $200 million unreported - and there's already been stories of
>>>people who have made small contributions multiple times and all
>>>that. I'm saying it's laying a predicate for the future that can be
>>>very dangerous," McCain told host Chris Wallace in a live interview
>>>from Ohio on Sunday morning, blasting the Illinois senator for not
>>>voluntarily disclosing his small donors, as McCain has done.
>>>Any help on what John really meant to say?
>> "laying a precedent", I assume, although I'm not sure that's the
>> verbe juste.  Maybe he's hoping a sex scandal will break during the
>> next fortnight.
> How about an idiom blend of "lay the groundwork" + "set a precedent",
> a
> bonus malapropism?

Hm, not sure here. A Google search for "laying|lay|laid|lain a precedent"
(including quotes) yields only about 1/3 of the number of the results of
"laying|lay|laid|lain a predicate" -McCain . (The proportion jumps to 1:10
unless we exclude 'McCain'.) Many of them are lawyerly and some of them are
old. See http://tinyurl.com/5da95b (1895m if I'm not mistaken). To my
untrained ear it sounds like the same meaning as 'set a precedent', but we
should probably ask a lawyer if this is legitimate jargon.

Chris Waigl

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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