Friday, February 8, 2013

Smithsonian Magazine:The myth of split infinitives

There was some good news in the February Smithsonian magazine for those us who have labored over typewriters and then computers for so many years.  According to the experts, you won't go to Hell  if you split an infinitive.   And you won't suffer in purgatory if you, as I just did, begin a sentence sentence with a conjunction.  What's more, there's no shameful abuse of grammar if you end a sentence with a preposition.

A periodical of Smithsonian's worthy standards has now reassured us that all of the above transgressions are myths  That's right, myths that should in no way intrude on clearly written texts..  Indeed, it goes still farther by telling  us:
"But perhaps the biggest grammar myth of all is the infamous taboo against splitting  an infinitive,  as in "to boldly go'".  The truth is that you can't split an infinitive,  since 'to'  isn't part of the  infinitive, there's nothing to split."  If that gets a little technical for you, don't bother.   Go back to the part that says infinitives aren't divisible and move on with a clear conscience.
Smithsonian also quotes some notable sources to free us from our guilty conscience.  There were the comforting words of Katharine Hepburn, who once observed:
"If you obey all the rules, you miss all the fun."
Then it closes with the outburst of an angry Raymond Chandler when a copy editor at the Atlantic Monthly messed around with the author's  prose:
"When I split an in infinitive, God damn it, I split it so it will remain split."
That works for me.

NOTE:  My column on Kasich's budget and the pizza twirlers in the Ohio General Assembly is posted on Plunderbund.


Howard said...

You made my day with the news from Smithsonian Magazine that it's ok to split an
Infinitive! I had it drilled into me that splitting an infinitive was tantamount to blasphemy.
Do I ever like Raymond Chandler's well chosen words on the subject. Ah Raymond, where were you when Miss Sponseller, my high school English teacher, likened splitting a infinitive to committing treason!

David Hess said...

William Faulkner, deservedly in the pantheon of American writers, rarely knew when to end a sentence. His grammar was often indecipherable. Yet he remains a Titan of the English language. That's why English persists as arguably the most flexible of human inventions. Even so, some conventions of writing propriety should stand through time and creative efforts. Strong verbs, for instance, should supplant adverbs in most cases. Also, I'm in favor of retaining periods at the end of sentences.