Man Without Qualities

Wednesday, December 18, 2002

To Boldly Go Where All English Writers Were Before!

Stuart Buck is right about split infinitives. English has always had them, always should have them and always will have them. Latinization was a fad, and not a benefit to English. It has been truly written there are two ways of hating English poetry: one can hate poetry, or one can love Alexander Pope.

The Man Without Qualities is not classically trained (unlike the erudite Dr. Weevil, for example). But the Father Of The Man Without Qualities was fluent in three forms of Greek (two classical versions and demotic) as well as Golden Age, Silver Age and Church Latin. He was also proficient in French, Portuguese, Spanish and Romanian - but he considered those languages to be essentially corollaries of the basics.

He always hated the phony "rule" against English split infinitives - and for exactly the reason Stuart cites. He also pointed out that not only infinitives but also adverbs work differently in English and Latin. For example, it is convenient to think of the infinitive of "read" as "to read." An adverb is then thought of as modifying the deployed form of the verb: "quickly read."

But the Father Of The Man Without Qualities sometimes pointed out that just as English clearly includes two-word infinitives, English can also be viewed as including multi-word infinitives: "to quickly read," for example can be read as a single infinitive. When one deploys it in conjugated form, as in "I intend to quickly read this book," one is not using "quickly" as a verb - a criticism which misunderstands the structure of the multi-word English infinitive. [See the comment to Stuart's post.]

This approach eliminates the split infinitive problem entirely exactly because the approach still leaves the question of choosing the verb correctly. "To read quickly" does not have the same meaning as "to quickly read." The "rule" against split infinitives can then be seen as a phony simplification of the rather hard problem of picking the right verb.

Comments: Post a Comment