Friday, 17 October 2014

To Boldly Split Infinitives

The early episodes of the TV series ‘Star Trek’ were well worth watching for the hilarious way they presented American ideology: the unshakeable American conviction that it is not just their right but their duty to ensure that all life in the universe is conducted according to the mores of small-town America. Each episode was preceded by the same voice-over, which contained what soon became the English-speaking World’s most notorious split infinitive, ‘To boldly go’. Indeed, when Penguin brought out a new edition of Eric Partridge’s (I think that was his name) ‘Usage and Abusage’, the cover design was:

            To boldly go?

            To go boldly?

            Boldly to go?

 The thought police, who have evidently never read Shakespeare or indeed any other great English language writer, try to tell us that splitting infinitives — that is to say, putting a word, typically an adverb, between the ‘to’ and the verb stem, is not on, not done in the best circles. Nonsense of course: if it sounds natural and the meaning is clear, go ahead and split your infinitive. In fact, sometimes it’s a good idea to carefully do so, to neatly avoid ambiguity.

At this point I was planning to judiciously quote a little bit of what Kingsley Amis had to entertainingly say on the subject in his very last book, ‘The King’s English’, but I find that he discusses the whole thing far better than me, so I decided to painstakingly scan the entire passage and to carefully paste it in here:

No comments:

Post a Comment