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Home » Archives » January 2007 » A Rule To Not Obey
[Previous entry: "Jokes to Make You Cry"] [Next entry: "Scripting Spontaneity"]

01/10/2007: A Rule To Not Obey

Let's talk about split-infinitives. The "rule" is that you're not supposed to put stuff between the "to" part and the verb part of an infinitive verb. So "...boldly to go..." is fine, and "...to boldly go..." is wrong. "It's great just to see you" is fine. "It's great to just see you," is wrong. Seem arbitrary and strange? Good, because it is.

I've been told that this rule has absolutely nothing to do with anything about the way English evolved or is structured, but was imposed on the language by scholars who felt English at its purest should work like Latin, in which the infinitive is a single word and cannot be split anyway. This, one should note, is a very silly reason to mess around with imposing rules on speakers of English.

But, now, here, finally, is the definitive reason to ignore the split-infinitive "rule." Here's a joke from a recent episode of the Daily Show with Jon Stewart:

Jon Stewart
(re: execution)
Wait-- you were there?

John Oliver
Well, I didn't spend Christmas in Baghdad to NOT go to a hanging.

Now, this isn't a joke because of the split infinitive, exactly. It's a joke because it presupposes the desirability of going to a hanging. But it is substantially less funny if the infinitive is left unmolested. (If you care why, it's because this word order makes not-going-to-a-hanging into more of a cohesive little unit, treats it as a THING TO DO. And that's what allows Oliver to dismiss it as a laughable thing to do, given any alternative.)

This is, of course, not the only example of this. You might have a jovial uncle who talks about how he likes to "go up to the lake to not fish." Haw.

The point of all this? Tweak your jokes. Look for little rule-defying tricks like this. Be willing to grab the grammar and twist it a little bit to see if some sweet comedy drips out.

Lunch: The "Veggie Max" sandwich from Subway. I think that's the name of it. It's got things that look like veggie burger patties in it.


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