[LMB] OT: split infinitives, was OT: Terry Pratchett

Marc Wilson marc.wilson at gmx.co.uk
Wed Sep 22 11:30:24 BST 2021

On Tue, 21 Sep 2021 22:49:52 +0100, John Lennard
<john.c.lennard at gmail.com> wrote:

>William: >As I understand it, split infinitives were outlawed because you
>can?t do it Latin.
>Marc: Grammatical prescriptivists, who had an almost fetishistic respect for
>Latin, decided it should't be done.  "Outlawed" is overstating the case,
>John: Overstating, certainly, but also mis-stating.
>It is perfectly true that Latin infinitive forms, being single words,
>cannot be split. But the analytical nature of English, with a two-word form
>of infinitive, means it can be ; and that creates (a) a mild imperative to
>keep the words together, especially as (b) meaning can be at stake, 'only
>to go' and  'to go only' -not- meaning the same thing, and 'to only go'
>being ambiguous, while (c) sensible writers have always recognised both
>rule of thumb and exploitative opportunity.

Sometimes, though, avoiding those proscriptions leads to clumsy phrasing
for little profit, like Churchill's "up with which I will not put."

>The problem with *Star Trek*'s famous `'to boldly go" was that the
>producers intended it as a claim of desirable attraction to such bold
>going, and did -not- expect it to become the world's best-known example of
>careless commercial language.
>Conversely, the single best split infinitive I am aware of is in e e
>cummings's novel *The Enormous Room* -- "to in any way (however slightingly
>of insinuatingly) insult a potato". Now -that- is a split infinitive that
>-knows- what it is doing, so all is well ; it's unthinking or unaware
>splitting that is grammatically ugly-without-profit, while risking meaning

Who was it that said only when you understand the rules at a visceral
level are you permitted to break them on purpose?  (OSLT)

"Religion is bad, drugs are good" is not a slogan that will get you a lot
of votes in America - Bill Maher

More information about the Lois-Bujold mailing list