Monday, September 10, 2007


Two fun things I learned today from David Foster Wallace's essay, "Authority and American Usage" (from Consider the Lobster):

1. The whole "never end a sentence with a preposition" rule dates from the 18th century, when a British preacher (one Father Lowth), um, decided that it should be so. Huh. More fodder for Sam Harris, I suppose.

2. Meanwhile, our prohibition against split infinitives is, essentially, a holdover from our language's shared start in and obsession with Latin. Latin infinitives (as if I would know) are, as single words, impossible to split. You can see how an early belief in the literate supremacy (and primacy) of Latin would lead folks to conclude that English infinitives (consisting of two words) should not be split. From cannot be split to should not be split.

I like Wallace much more as an essayist than a novelist. Those same discursive tendencies that bug me in his fiction amuse me in his essays. Go figure.

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