The verb lag
I freely admit that the verb “lag” is one of my favorites, especially when writing earnings stories. Profits “lagged” analyst estimates. Or sales “lagged” expectations.
But Jan Freeman of the Boston Globe questions whether business journalists are using the word correctly.
She wrote, “Among the mainstream language commentators, lag gets little attention, though Bill Walsh, in his 2000 book ‘Lapsing Into a Comma,’Â takes a firm line: ‘It isn’t properly used as a transitive verb, despite all you’ve read about your mutual fund lagging the S&P 500 index,’ he writes.
“And contemporary dictionaries (mostly) back him up; of the five at my desk, only one — Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate, 11th edition — mentions the transitive lag, giving ‘current that lags the voltage’ as its example.”
“The Oxford English Dictionary, as usual, sheds some light on this divergence of opinion. Lag has been intransitive, it says, for nearly 500 years, and was commonly paired with behind from the start: ‘Why lag you ever behind?’ is the dictionary’s earliest citation. (Take that, redundancy nuts; if it was good enough for Shakespeare and Swift, lag behind is good enough for you.)”
“The transitive form surfaced only in the early 20th century, as part of a specialist lexicon: Here, the first OED citation — ‘A curve lags the origin if its zero value’ etc. — comes from a publication called ‘Electrical Circuit Analysis.’ And though this lag has trickled into common use in recent decades, it’s still confined mostly to business journalism.”
Read more here.