Dinner Conversation: Horcruxes and Adverbs

Conversation around my dinner table is often quite entertaining.  A lot of the time it involves a great amount of noise, so great, in fact, that often my wife and I sort of zone out, peckishly attending to our plates until the teenage-daughter talk, interspersed with the interjections of a protesting younger brother not wanting to be left out, dies down.  We’re firm believers in the daily family meal, my wife and I, even if it doesn’t always result in the type of quality family time we dream of.

Tonight, however, gave us one of those quality-time meals.

Two things we all seem to appreciate are Harry Potter and grammar.  Even the boy, who is not yet five, knows the curses banned by the Ministry of Magic and the name of he-who-must-not-be-named; and, yes, even the boy gets grammar.  Recently he’s been working on a difficult rule breaker: the verb “go.”  It’s no problem to say, “Today he goes with a friend to the park.”  But why isn’t it, “Yesterday he goed to the park”?  It’s an exception, I explain.  (“What’s an inception?” he asks.  And I think, hey, at least he’s got the “a” and “an” rule down.)  Just say “went,” I say.  Yesterday he went to the park.  (“No he didn’t,” he responds; “yesterday he went to school.”  Okay, fair enough.)

So there we were, all of us, sitting at the dinner table, practicing our practice of eating a daily meal together, hoping for stimulating conversation and quality time for all, when it actually happened.

“What’s the big deal with splitting an infinitive anyway?” daughter 1 asks.

“I once had a professor answer that question by saying editors find them annoying,” I answer.

“What’s really annoying is when someone doubly or triply splits an infinitive,” daughter 2 says, smirking in only her way.

“What do you mean?” my wife asks.

“Like when someone puts two or three adverbs between the ‘to’ and the verb,” daughter 2 explains reasonably enough.

“Whahuh?” a few voices say in unison.

“Whahuh?” a 4.975 year-old voice echoes.

“Give an example,” daughter 3 suggests.

So the conversation turned to Shakespeare’s paradigmatic statement of infinitives, “To be or not to be . . .”  No split here.  But to say, “To be or to not be,” would be to split an infinitive.  This is annoying, perhaps especially for editors, but probably as well to anyone who has ever heard the statement said properly before.  I mean, really, could you imagine a stage actor saying, “To be or to not be, that is the question”?  How annoying!

Now throw another adverb in there: “To be or to just not be.”  More annoying still, yeah?  And another: “To be or to just not really be”; and even another: “To be or to like just not really be”; and you get the picture.

“Kind of loses its effectiveness,” my wife observes, “like a horcrux.”

True that!

As he-who-must-not-be-named has taught us all, to split a soul into seven horcruxes really reduces the soul’s effectiveness.  So too with infinitives.  In the end, to do so is to really, truly, actually, substantially, enigmatically, truncatingly, miserably deny the verb its inherent power.

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3 Responses to “Dinner Conversation: Horcruxes and Adverbs”

  1. My brain would freeze if I ever sat at your dinner table. Haha! Clever conversations 🙂

    • Jeyna Grace, thanks for the comment. Yeah, we’re kind of nerdy about grammar and Harry Potter around my house. I’d hate to be Daughter 2’s English teacher!

      Visited your blog, by the way. Love it! Keep writing.

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