Splitting image

some, splitting an infinitive is akin to splitting the atom. Graham Hopkins
wonders why….

split infinitive is not a grammatical error. Neither is it as widely or
"officially" denounced as some would have us believe. It is a
question of style.

To split deliberately or not to carelessly
split, that is the question. Godfrey Howard in his excellent Good English
refers to the splitting of infinitives as "the longest-running
controversy in English grammar". It still has legs. "The
English-speaking world," wrote Henry Fowler in his standard-setting 1926
guide Modern English Usage, "may be divided into (1) those who
neither know nor care what a split infinitive is; (2) those who do not know,
but care very much; (3) those who know and condemn; (4) those who know and
distinguish. Those who neither know nor care are the vast majority, and are a
happy folk, to be envied by most of the minority classes."

Forty years later the most famous split
infinitive in the universe came from the five-year mission statement of the
Starship Enterprise, "to boldly go where no man has gone before". The
updated Star Trek: The New Generation, colonising our new-found
equality, similarly upgraded the phrase "no man" to
"no-one". So while even the Klingons have modernised into friends of
the Federation, the split infinitive stubbornly remains. As any grammarian (who
as a group have modernised into "linguists") or pedant will point
out: the old starship should have intended "to go boldly".

An infinitive is "to" followed by a
verb: to assess, to complain, to resign, and so on. When an adverb (a word that
tells us something about the verb) nips in between "to" and the verb
(to bitterly complain, to triumphantly resign), that is a "split
infinitive". This, for some, is worse than placing the crystal to the left
of the dinner plate. Really.

George Orwell, Iris Murdoch, and Lord Byron
all split with this artificial rule. In a letter to his publisher, Raymond
Chandler wrote: "Would you convey my compliments to the purist who reads
your proofs and tell him or her…that when I split an infinitive, God damn it,
I split it so it will stay split."

The Write Stuff is not advocating a
splitters’ charter. As ever, care should be taken, but if something is made
clearer or sounds better split, then split it. Also, as the linguist Theodore
Bernstein says, the phrases "to more than double", "to at least
maintain" and "to all but ensure" simply demand to be left

Even the linguistically conservative Eric
Partridge in his book Usage and Abusage says: "Avoid the split
infinitive wherever possible; but if it is the clearest and most natural
construction, use it boldly. The angels are on our side." Remember that
when pedants harp on about it being wrong.

l All contributors of amusing quotes, jargon,
gobbledygook and management-speak will win a copy of either Plain English
for Social Services
or The Write Stuff both by Graham Hopkins and
both published by Russell House (www.russellhouse.co.uk).
Please send contributions to graham.hopkins@rbi.co.uk

High time

"We were delighted to see our peer education project on drugs"

"Part of the morning was set aside for a bi-lingual experience"

contributions to staff newsletter. Thanks to Catrin Hallam, YWCA of GB

sheep’s clothing

"…the relevance of role expectancy and role circularity to
deviancy-making and deviancy-unmaking; the conservatism corollary of
normalisation, with its implications of positive compensation for people’s
devalued or at-risk status…"

"Passing" by Dr Wolf Wolfensberger. Thanks to Claire Kerfoot, Mencap

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