JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post
I wonder if Bartleby is more a "structure of words" than was famously said of Molly Bloom?
The question just came up from Patti about what Bartleby's classic rejoinder was in Herman Melville's (1819–1891) classic noirish "Bartleby, the Scrivener…" (1853)–was it "I would prefer not to" or "I prefer not to"?
Instantly I thought the former, but then, well, I wasn't sure if it wasn't the later.
This is one of those instances that shows how magnificent the internet is: I was able to conduct a quick census of Bartleby's own spoken variations on this phrase in like ten minutes. And the results are conclusive but a little complicated.
As pure stand-alone phrases, "I would prefer not to" and "I prefer not" are used three times each. However, there are variations on this theme, each used only one time by Bartleby: "I would prefer not", "I prefer not to", "I would prefer not to go", "I would prefer not to make any change", "I would prefer not to be a little unreasonable", "I would prefer to be left alone", "I would prefer not to take a clerkship", "I would prefer to be doing something else", "I would prefer not to make any change at all", and then "I prefer to give no answer" and the fatal "I prefer not to dine".
So. When comparing the use of "would" in the "not" and "not to" and all of the other extensions on the theme, "would" does come out on top, in general, 12 times to 6.
I have no preference for either phrase.