Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Birth of a new prescription

Here's an update on the splitting. I asked an editor about it and the response was "Probably to avoid splitting the verbs." This is a new one on me. I checked some online grammar sites and Strunk and White. I found no prescription against splitting verbs.

However, a Google search for "slitting verbs" revealed these two sites (and possibly more--I got tired.)

Professor Johnston at Dickinson College has a list of pet peeves for papers. It includes:

S.I.--split infinitive. An old fashioned grammar "rule" but still has currency for elegant writers. "To boldly go" remains the most notorious of split infinitives--"to go boldly" or "boldly to go" just isn't the same. Use your discretion when splitting the "helper" from the main verb--splitting verbs can confuse.

And The Tongue Untied at the University of Oregon had this to say:

Split verbs lead to incoherence. In most cases, it is best to keep auxiliary verbs next to the main verb and to avoid splitting infinitives.

  • The students who have been, for more than a week, waiting for tickets were disappointed with the news.
  • The burglar was, as far as the detectives could determine, hiding somewhere in the building.

But these are whole phrases inbetween the helping verb and main verb. I'm talking about a simple adverb!

Here is one of the sentences that offended my editor:

It may also be wise to have your doctor give you a physical.

The suggested "correction" is:

It also may be wise to have your doctor give you a physical.

which sounds like ass to me.

So there are a some people who find splitting a helping verb from a main verb is incoherent. I don't get what that means. But if they have their way, we could see emergence of a new prescriptive rule. I will, however, continue to stet these changes.


g said...

just out of curiosity, what is "stet"?

liberal elite said...

"Stet" means to let stand. It's one of those proofreader's marks. You use it to tell people to ignore a change that someone else has marked on a manuscript.

Stetting is also a wonderful power afforded to copywriters. It's like the presidential veto. The editor says to change something and you just say "stet'! Very cool.

I should have glossed that one! I forgot not everyone deals with manuscripts and revisions.

g said...

thanks! you'd think with all the technical writers/editors i know/am related to i would have picked that up somewhere before ;)

boredoom said...

It totally agree. "It also may ..." is not how people speak. You only find that on the pages of the NY Times.

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