Deconstructing Advice: Split Infinitives

I have something quite important to say, so pay attention. (And read all the way to the end before you comment please.*)

To never split infinitives is a stupid rule.

The idea behind the insistence of unsplit infinitives is that in many languages that aren’t English (most of them, I’m sure), it’s not possible to split infinitives. This rule seems to want to ignore the fact that sentence structure can differ greatly from one language to another. Forgive my lack of knowledge of modern languages; I’m going to have to use Latin as an example. It’s what I studied in high school.

In Latin, verbs always come at the end of the sentence (and also can’t split their infinitives). But in English we don’t say

The dog the ball chased,

We say

The dog chased the ball.

English allows split infinitives, and it SHOULD. It’s not my fault we have all these extra 1-3 letter words that other languages don’t necessarily have. ┬áBut damnit, I’m going to use them.

After all, should I have to clumsily say

“The boy began to strum gently the guitar strings” or “The boy began gently to strum the guitar strings”?

1. “Gently the guitar strings” sounds awful, and 2. Was he beginning gently, or strumming gently?

It seems to me that split infinitives came about so that it would be quite clear with what verb the adverb belongs, or just to give the sentence a better flow, or both, and why not? The fact that there’s an infinitive in the sentence does not become lost if it is split. That would be the ONLY reason not to split it. If the sentence flow and rhythm is better served with the split, then really, who cares if you can’t write the sentence the exact same way in Latin?

*I invite anyone who’s very strongly against split infinitives to tell me WHY in the comments. Please give a legitimate, rational reason for the unsplit infinitive. “Because that’s how it is/should be/has been” is NOT a legitimate reason (or “because that’s the rule”). I’ve seen split infinitives so many times that I’m surprised anyone ever cares anymore, so if you’re going to insist, you can at least have a real argument to back up your opinion.

And Having Done So, I Blogged About It

I have finished writing Chapter 2 of Helen! When I’ve had a chance to give it a quick once-over, I’ll post the whole chapter. Right here, I’ll tell you my thoughts on this chapter/the whole novel so far –

 

Chapter 2, The Welcome Feast (not its actual title), is going to need a LOT of editing, when I get to that point. The pages about the feast do not seem complete to me. Although Helen’s perceptions of things are sometimes a little vague, if she’s overwhelmed or distracted, children do notice a lot, and she would be very interested in what was going on. I know that Hector needs more description. In fact, most of the characters could probably use some more physical description. In the first draft, I need to move the story along a little faster, to relay information as slowly as I intend, but still feel like I’m getting somewhere. I need to get into it to picture it better. (The mythological/historical research could help with that as well.)

 

In the meantime, I’m interested to know how you, the readers, are picturing places, people, etc. How do you see Hector? What about Clytemnestra, or Tyndareus? What does your image of the feast look like? If you feel inclined to answer, when I post the chapter, that is, I’d love to hear what you think.

Currently Reading: Pale Fire

I am in the middle of a very interesting book by Vladimir Nabokov. I am a little bit annoyed with myself because, for the past few days, I’ve been watching episodes of The Big Bang Theory online instead of using most of my time to read and write, which had been my intention before finding all the tv show links. However… what can you do?

 

At the moment, in lieu of actually reading, I am writing this post – but I’ve been putting that off for at least a day and a half. I think that means I’m ceasing to procrastinate in one regard in order to procrastinate on something else. As long as I’m procrastinating somehow, it’s okay. Can you imagine if I just had everything done? Of course, that isn’t possible, because new ideas for writing come to me frequently. Some will never turn into a piece that was written down, but I the point is that I always have something else to create. Which means I’ll never be finished. It’s lucky, though, in one sense – since I intend to write for my whole life, I never have to worry about retirement!

But I am digressing most flagrantly. This post is meant to put down some of my thoughts on Pale Fire. I will now move on to my original purpose…

If you’re unfamiliar with the work, it is a story written in this form: a poem by John Shade, with an introduction and commentary on particular lines by Charles Kinbote. Let me make this absolutely clear: The entire book, introduction through commentary, and I believe all the way through the index, is Nabokov’s novel. John Shade is a character, and Kinbote is a character. Kinbote is the protagonist. The annoying, ridiculous protagonist.

The commentary is amusing because of its somewhat unpredictable inconsistency. A few of the notes do seem to be attempts to elucidate the meaning of the poem, while others, apparently, are platforms for free association. In my reading, it seems that the notes that go on for pages about the King of Zembla is Kinbote’s own writing, which he has decided should be published and therefore sticks in the commentary anywhere he can.

The most interesting thing about it, I think, is the presence of at least three stories. One story is told by the poem, and gives us a sometimes hazy picture. It is Shade’s voice, and the only chance we have to see Shade from any POV other than Kinbote’s. Then there is the story Kinbote tells, centering on his friendship with Shade – which to me seems overstated, wishful. He writes as if he believes that Shade loves him, a man he only knew in the last year(s?) of his life, and his wife, Sybil, controls him like a captive lapdog.

The third story is about the history of Zembla, particularly the one king who ran away and was then hunted by a man who was supposed to kill him. It clearly has nothing to do with the poem, but Kinbote’s notes make it apparent that he thinks his stories about Zembla were the intended subject of the poem. The poem, in fact, was an autobiographical work from Shade -unlikely to connect to Zemblan kings in any way- and the biggest clue that Charles Kinbote is, to some degree, deluded.

I do recommend this book, but not to everyone. I don’t think it would appeal to general taste. If you decide to read it, I would suggest this: don’t read it as Kinbote suggests at the end of his introduction. Just read the poem, and then the commentary, referring to the poem only when you decide you want a refresher on what that particular line actually said.