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PostPosted: Wed May 26, 2010 12:11 am 
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Here is a clip of Bob Dylan singing one line of Tombstone Blues*. For no other reason than idle linguistic curiousity, give it a listen and then repeat it aloud; ideally in front of a friend. The whole verse is below, but for the sake of the experiment, try repeating what you heard rather than reading the text aloud. Reading the text first is OK, however; you don't have to hide your eyes.

Quote:
[...]

The hysterical bride in the penny arcade
Screaming she moans, "I've just been made"
Then sends out for the doctor who pulls down the shade
Says, "My advice is to not let the boys in".

Now the medicine man comes and he shuffles inside
He walks with a swagger and he says to be bride
"Stop all this weeping, swallow your pride
You will not die, it's not poison".

[...]


Good. My next post will say why I asked.

*If anyone doesn't know it, it's a track on Highway 61 Revisited, Bob Dylan's finest rock & roll hour.

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PostPosted: Wed May 26, 2010 12:36 am 
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What I'm interested in finding out is who sang (or said) "My advice is to not let the boys in" and who sang "My advice is not to let the boys in" (to not vs not to).

The friend is there to tell you what you actually said. Many people (and every cover I've ever heard, hence this post) will swear they're saying A while actually saying B.

I'm interested in finding out if there's a regional pattern to how people do.

~~

Rhythmicly and grammatically, the former is stronger; it gives Dylan the ability to pound the beat while he sings. This song - and I suppose the entire musical genre, when you get right down to it - is all about hammering the beat. In the era between Frank Sinatra and rap, Dylan was the vocalist with the greatest sense of time. His singing is frequently disparaged, but in this his technique is flawless. There's no singer who'd have nothing to learn from him about it.

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And now there was no doubt that the trees were really moving - moving in and out through one another as if in a complicated country dance. ('And I suppose,' thought Lucy, 'when trees dance, it must be a very, very country dance indeed.')

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PostPosted: Wed May 26, 2010 3:01 am 
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What's going on, by the way, is that the prohibition on splitting infinites is becoming more and more general over time, and reaching the point that it's instinctive. I suspect this is particularly true in the US. I'd like to know if, say, Ausralian or english english is the same.

~~

It's interesting because 'never split an infinitive' is a made-up rule. I don't believe anyone knows where it came from, but it's less than a century old. At every time since splitting an infinitive became possible in english* at all, it's been perfectly acceptable to do so. However, in the early 20th century a rule that declared it bad english began circulating, particularly in the US. It's becoming more and more entrenched, to the point that people are automatically fixing it without knowing that's what they're doing.

*Which was the birth of early modern english in the nineth & tenth centuries; anglo-saxon (old English) has a suffix-based verb declension system like latin and nearly every other indo-european language.

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PostPosted: Wed May 26, 2010 4:49 am 
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I tried it a few times. Seems to me it's difficult to say "not to" instead of "to not" and still maintain the Dylanesque emphasis on the beat that goes with "not." Trying to squeeze the "to" in second detracts from the ability to pound on NOT, LET, and BOYS.

I did not follow the experimental parameters and use a friend, but I did try it both ways.

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PostPosted: Wed May 26, 2010 7:23 am 
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s1m0n wrote:
It's interesting because 'never split an infinitive' is a made-up rule. I don't believe anyone knows where it came from, but it's less than a century old. At every time since splitting an infinitive became possible in english* at all, it's been perfectly acceptable to do so. However, in the early 20th century a rule that declared it bad english began circulating, particularly in the US. It's becoming more and more entrenched, to the point that people are automatically fixing it without knowing that's what they're doing.


I came across an article somewhere claiming that it started with a newspaper advertisement for a secretarial college in the U.S. , in the early 20th Century. "Do you make these common mistakes in grammar?" And they made up the "mistake" to drag innocent people into their evil web of deceit.
That's only one story. No doubt there are others. It sounds plausible to me, and I am prepared to credit it.

The business of rhythm seems to be the crux of the issue. As someone brought up in Ireland and Scotland,
the natural rhythm of speech there would be to say "My advice is not to let the boys in". That's because people have adapted English grammar to accord with Gaelic and Irish rules. If you move down the Island of Britain to Oxford, the scholars there have been studying Latin for so long that they cannot rid themselves of the idea that English grammar should follow Latin grammatical rules. "My advice is to not let the boys in" sounds like Oxford English to me.
People like Fowler and Partridge laboriously explain that there is a subtle difference between the two statements. De minimis not curat lex. I don't care. It's too slight for most people to sorry about. Anybody who has written a song has had occasion to turn the words around so they fit the tune. If it sounds right when you sing it, that is the proof of the pudding.

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PostPosted: Wed May 26, 2010 11:49 am 
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Inocent Bystander wrote:
People like Fowler and Partridge laboriously explain that there is a subtle difference between the two statements ["My advice is not to let..." and "My advice is to not let..."].

Bracketed addendum mine.

I'll use 'em both in meaning the same thing, by which I mean the second of the two. But if I were to be rigorous with my own usages in accordance with how the word order ultimately makes sense to me, the first one would only mean something in the following sense: "My advice is not to let the boys in: rather, my advice is (that we have a drink, to howl at the moon, that you go shopping, to tell the boys to go hang themselves, etc.)." That is, clarification of advice itself is the focus, rather than merely stating the content of the advice. But to be honest, if I were to intend the former I'd follow with such a clarification, as above, rather than just let the first clause hang. That's just being an enigmatic ass.

Otherwise (colloquially, anyway) for me "...advice is not to let..." all on its own can and often does stand to mean the same as "...advice is to not let...". If a grammar maven should pounce on me for it I can always smile and say, "Ah, yes. What a boor I am. More tea?"

Is that difference the subtley Fowler and Partridge had in mind? It just wasn't seeming all that subtle to me, FWIW. But maybe I'm just tewwibwy wefined, a dewwicate hothouse fwower. :wink:

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PostPosted: Wed May 26, 2010 12:33 pm 
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I heard "Do not let the boys in!" No split infinitives at all! Deaf as a post, of course...


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PostPosted: Wed May 26, 2010 12:52 pm 
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Innocent Bystander wrote:
If you move down the Island of Britain to Oxford, the scholars there have been studying Latin for so long that they cannot rid themselves of the idea that English grammar should follow Latin grammatical rules.

Right, that was always my understanding, too: an artificial Latin prescriptivism perpetuated by Fowler et al. It's easy for us to overlook the former pervasive influence of Latin, in which it's impossible to split an infinitive because it's a single word.

One of the reasons I find modern Greek interesting is that the language has lost its infinitives, which existed in classical Greek. The first person singular present ("I") is the canonical form for dictionary look-up. And the subjunctive (sort of) must be used as a periphrastic for infinitive clauses. In Greek, Dylan would sing: "My advice is that you not let the boys in". Problem solved. :-)

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PostPosted: Wed May 26, 2010 12:53 pm 
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devondancer wrote:
I heard "Do not let the boys in!" No split infinitives at all! Deaf as a post, of course...


Heheh. It's easy to forget that you can avoid getting yer knickers in a twist by simply rewriting the sentence. "Not to let..." is wrong because you're saying that that is not your advice (unless that's actually what you mean to say). You've given the sentence a meaning you didn't intend. You have to say "to not let." You'd be forgiven whatever you said as long as you weren't writing a use-of-English textbook.

There is no rule against split infinitives (the term itself is technically incorrect in any case: the infinitive is a single word). There never was. It's just ignoramuses trying to improperly make comparisons with Latin. It pays to just stick the adverb where it makes most sense for avoiding confusion.

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PostPosted: Wed May 26, 2010 1:08 pm 
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MTGuru wrote:
In Greek, Dylan would sing: "My advice is that you not let the boys in". Problem solved. :-)

And I can't magine an Anglophone would misunderstand "My advice is not that you let the boys in." :)

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PostPosted: Wed May 26, 2010 1:30 pm 
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My how youse guys go on about the boys....

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PostPosted: Wed May 26, 2010 1:46 pm 
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Get off my dress.

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PostPosted: Wed May 26, 2010 1:50 pm 
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Η συμβουλή μου είναι ότι δεν σας επιτρέπουν τα αγόρια να έρθουν μέσα. - Μπομπ Ντίλαν

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PostPosted: Wed May 26, 2010 1:59 pm 
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Mpoup Ntilan?

:wink:

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PostPosted: Wed May 26, 2010 2:47 pm 
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Hey, that's Mpomp, not Mpoup. M-Poop Dylan is mighty disconcerting. But I guess M-Pomp is not much better.

There's no "B" or "D" in the modern Greek alphabet. Beta has become a "V" sound, Delta a voiced "Th". So ...

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