(urth) OT: split infinitive [was Re: torturing BTQ]

Jerry Friedman jerry_friedman at yahoo.com
Fri Jul 31 06:26:56 PDT 2009

--- On Fri, 7/31/09, Jeffrey Brent McBeth <mcbeth at broggs.org> wrote:
> On Thu, Jul 30, 2009 at 06:01:19PM
> -0700, Allan Anderson wrote:
> > I think the functional questions are 1) does using a
> split infinitive allow more
> > rhetorical oomph, and if so, 2) will the elegance and
> flash it affords
> > sufficiently dazzle all but the most hardened
> grammarians?

To me, split infinitives are sometimes the most natural
word order, with no special elegance or flash.

> > or,
> > 
> > Will the reader be distracted from your point by the
> > nagging worry that you've
> > violated some possibly valid rule?

That would be too bad.
> One of the beautiful things about spoken English is the
> common
> practice to insert syllables, words, and phrases in the
> middle of
> other words and phrases where the iambic rhythm largely
> inherent in
> English allows.  I would suggest that splitting
> infinitives is usually
> a manifestation of this larger ability (that I've not heard
> in Spanish
> speakers, and my German coworkers claimed doesn't exist
> there either).
> One more vulgar example is the insertion of swear words
> into the
> middle of other words (Ex. abso-.......-lutely)

This is called "tmesis".  I thought you could only do it
with swear words and euphemisms for them.

Speaking of iambs (and I am), a classic example of tmesis

> (On a poetical bent, I personally find heptameter more
> natural than pentameter, though)

Lots of nursery rhymes, ballads, and hymns are in
heptameter (split up into four and three), and most of
us heard or read lots of those before we got to blank
verse and sonnets.

I can think of only three Wolfe poems offhand: the "shooting
star" one (tetrameter), the "Row, brothers, row" one
(trimeter), and the "Sad experience teaches me" one

Jerry Friedman


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