Word Abuse: SPLIT INFINITIVES


split infinitive, n phr: The placement of a rogue word between the two parts of the infinitive form of a verb. E.g.: “to correct” in the phrase, “Why do you have to constantly correct me? Get a life.”
The PEF Dictionary of the English Language (Not yet published)


This is an area of English in great need of reform and a strict rule!    There are currently two possible options pertaining to the split infinitive.

Our rule must either be
never to split infinitives
or
– to always split infinitives!

Being experts on talking, we at the Proper English Foundation are undoubtably the best-placed to force our beliefs onto the general public.   We simply have to decide what those beliefs shall be.   W
hichever rule we choose, however, rest assured that we shall not tolerate any deviation from it!   We cannot have people rushing about saying things that contradict what other people say.   That is the very definition of anarchy!

You may think that the impracticality of applying such a strict rule would discourage us, but it will not.   The fact that many infinitives are split every day in speech and print (we would guess around 50%, a guess based on nothing) without their causing a public outcry is, in fact, merely a reflexion of how lazy the public now is.

So, to split or not to split?   The first writer to recommend that infinitives keep their legs together was Robert Lowth in 1762, because Latin verbs were single words and thus inseparable.   You may object that English is not Latin and had existed for many centuries without such a rule, but we hope you do not object!   It would make this whole argument ridiculous, so please do not.

The idea of always needing to split an infinitive is not as ludicrous as it might first sound: it would insert extra words into dull sentences or book titles, e.g., “To Brutally Kill a Mockingbird”, or “To Justifiably Kill a Mockingbird”, depending on context (We haven’t read it, because it’s American).    Or into the phrase, “There are many ways to ___ skin a cat”, one could insert the adjectives “carefully”, “quickly”, “reluctantly”, et cetera.  (We at the PEF do not condone animal cruelty other than that which has been re-legalised by the Government.)
A split-infinitive example for the youngster generation is found in the pop song “To Be Thumping”, by Chumbawamba.   Would not “To Be Drunkenly Thumping”, or, “To Be Incomprehensibly Thumping”, be a more informative title?   Har ha ha.

But, in the end, we must persevere with the no-split-infinitives­ rule, which has existed since time immemorial, or at least for as long as I can remember, and has never justifiably been broken   (according to the rules, which must not be broken).    I am not implying that we would hold mass public book-pulpings in town squares to eradicate literature and sci-fi serieses that contained the split infinitive, but nor am I ruling this out.    It is a matter for the future.

DO NOT TO SPLIT THE INFINITIVE! :-)

NB: The QES avoid split infinitives at all costs,[1] which sometimes leads to them not knowing how clearly to present sentences.    And, in this article, we see the contrast between their current president and somebody who has actually done some research: note the lack of fumbling guesswork by the latter.
















 

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