Split infinitives

Steven Pinker isn't an English Professor, but rather a highly regarded cognitive scientist. Even so, I really hope that his latest Op-Ed is right. Here are the money quotes:

Language pedants hew to an oral tradition of shibboleths that have no basis in logic or style, that have been defied by great writers for centuries, and that have been disavowed by every thoughtful usage manual. Nonetheless, they refuse to go away, perpetuated by the Gotcha! Gang and meekly obeyed by insecure writers.

Among these fetishes is the prohibition against “split verbs,” in which an adverb comes between an infinitive marker like “to,” or an auxiliary like “will,” and the main verb of the sentence. According to this superstition, Captain Kirk made a grammatical error when he declared that the five-year mission of the starship Enterprise was “to boldly go where no man has gone before”; it should have been “to go boldly.” Likewise, Dolly Parton should not have declared that “I will always love you” but “I always will love you” or “I will love you always.”

Any speaker who has not been brainwashed by the split-verb myth can sense that these corrections go against the rhythm and logic of English phrasing. The myth originated centuries ago in a thick-witted analogy to Latin, in which it is impossible to split an infinitive because it consists of a single word, like dicere, “to say.” But in English, infinitives like “to go” and future-tense forms like “will go” are two words, not one, and there is not the slightest reason to interdict adverbs from the position between them.
The rest of the article talks about how Justice Roberts messed up the oath of office because he's one of these "language shibboleths." But I don't really care about that so much. I'm just glad that the split infinitive thing has been put to rest. Because that rule never made any sense to me and it really messed with my writing.

The Science of Love

Fascinating article in the NYTimes today about some findings in the newest issue of Nature about the science of love. I'll let you read the article yourself, but in a nutshell, it talks about a study on prairie voles, one of the few mammals with the same level of monogamous tendencies as humans. Here's the money paragraph:

When a female prairie vole’s brain is artificially infused with oxytocin, a hormone that produces some of the same neural rewards as nicotine and cocaine, she’ll quickly become attached to the nearest male. A related hormone, vasopressin, creates urges for bonding and nesting when it is injected in male voles (or naturally activated by sex). After Dr. Young found that male voles with a genetically limited vasopressin response were less likely to find mates, Swedish researchers reported that men with a similar genetic tendency were less likely to get married. In his Nature essay, Dr. Young speculates that human love is set off by a “biochemical chain of events” that originally evolved in ancient brain circuits involving mother-child bonding, which is stimulated in mammals by the release of oxytocin during labor, delivery and nursing.
As a quick aside, I find it highly amusing - and unsurprising - that the hormone that creates urges for bonding in males is naturally activated by sex. I'm not quite sure what to take away from that, but it's still interesting nonetheless.

The article goes on to talk about the fascinating possibility that at some point in the future, drugs could be produced that would induce people to fall in - or out - of love with each other. So what does this mean? Is the most storied of human emotions nothing more than a biochemical reaction? Will the notion of love soon go the same way as the human soul? Is all that crazy stuff that we do for the ones we love really just the equivalent of driving drunk?

Another interesting paragraph:
“It would be completely unethical to give the drug to someone else,” he said, “but if you’re in a marriage and want to maintain that relationship, you might take a little booster shot yourself every now and then. Even now it’s not such a far-out possibility that you could use drugs in conjunction with marital therapy.”
What would it mean to be in a marriage where you have to take a drug in order to maintain a feeling of bondedness with your husband/wife? Would that really be a marriage worth keeping? Or would the emphasis in marriage change from love to more practical matters such as cultural and socioeconomic compatibility?

Crazy stuff.

Here comes the pain

So, word on the street is that the hammer will fall on Thursday. And by word on the street, I mean that the head of North America just e-mailed everyone in North America and told them that they had to be in the office on Thursday, with no explanation. Particularly interesting is that we just have to be in the office, we don't have to attend any meetings or anything.

There were a lot of conjectures out there, about a possible sale or something like that, but that's just a bunch of turtle poo as far as I can tell. The economy is bad, North America is the epicenter, they're laying people off. I'm surprised we didn't do it earlier.

That leaves me with the question though, what exactly do you do if you think/know you're going to be fired? Are there any special sorts of things you need to do to prepare yourself for the inevitable? It doesn't seem to me that there's much you can do in three days that would make getting laid off any easier. I suppose you could start calling people for a couch to crash on and start packing your shit in anticipation of vacating your apartment. Maybe get a slight head start on looking for a job?

If I had to guess, our snack and supply cabinets are going to get emptied over the next few days.
I'm also guessing that there will be some hilarious e-mails. But mostly just a lot of sadness.

New Year's Resolutions

I realize this is late, but just bear with me. 2008 is over and we're now moving into 2009. If I believed that there was any significance there, I would probably be very excited about this change. 2008 was the year where I learned about failure and rejection, a lesson that I've been steadily ducking for the whole 27 years of my existence. Because let's face it, being rejected sucks. There's nothing worse than going up for assessment and finding out that you just don't cut it. It's like when you were a little kid and you'd be waiting in line for a roller coaster, then found out at the very end that you're the only one that's not tall enough (OK, that may have just been me).

So let's here it for 2009. Resolutions for this year:

  1. I will get back in shape. This resolution, which was somewhat underway before the New Year, will henceforth be referred to as Operation Cookie Dough.
  2. I will stop smoking, for real. Things got a little bit out of hand after Pudge called it quits, but now's the time to get back on the wagon she put me on and reclaim my lungs.
  3. I will get back onto a normal person's sleeping schedule. So far, I am failing miserably on this one, but I'm hoping Operation Cookie Dough will help.
  4. I will strictly limit the time that the TV is allowed to be on to no more than an hour per night on average. Above all, this will be the hardest, as the apartment gets lonely when it's quiet. I plan on filling the void with music, but will first need to set up some kind of minimalist hardware solution that isn't reliant on my laptop and external hard drive being out in full force. If anyone has any bright ideas, please let me know.
I sincerely thought about having more serious resolutions up there, such as reading a book per week, or saving X baby elephants every month. I'm pretty sure that those would be stretching it. However, in light of the end of 2008, I do have one serious resolution that I'll put out there. And that is:
  1. I will keep in much better touch with my friends.
As the years have gone by, I've lost touch with a lot of you. When I lost Pudge, this became painfully obvious, much to my regret. So this year, I'm making the effort to reach out to people and not lose any more friends. Hell, I'll even try and post more often. So if you see this, give me a call and remind me of my promise, because it's the only one that I really want to keep.

Also, on the music front, I recommend everyone go to the Girl Talk website and download his newest album. The album is awesome and it's a lot of fun trying to count how many samples you recognize. For those of you unfamiliar with GT, he's basically a mash-up artist with a focus on pop music. This will be less interesting to some of the music connoisseurs out there, but should still be fun nonetheless.


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