Economics, Literature and Scepticism

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I am a PhD student in Economics. I am originally from South Africa and plan to return there after my PhD. I completed my M. Comm in Economics and my MA In Creative Writing (Poetry) at the University of Cape Town, where I worked as a lecturer before starting my PhD.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Split This

Posted by Simon Halliday | Friday, March 02, 2007 | Category: |

I have a niggling hate that has become more and more obvious as time has passed. It is a hatred of split infinitives. For those of you who don’t know, an infinitive is a “to ___” word, i.e. the verb in an ‘infinite’ form, such that it can be applied readily to anyone or anything. There is no object and no subject.

In languages other than English, the infinitive is normally a single word, hence it cannot be split. For example the words ‘avere’ in Italian, or ‘avoir’ in French translate into the infinitive ‘to have’ in English. Thus, in these Latin-derivates, you cannot split up the infinitive with a heinously placed adverb. For example you can’t translate ‘to boldly go’ into Italian or French, it will translate as either ‘boldly to go’ or ‘to go boldly’.

These days people using English, specifically Amer-english, tend to split their infinitives willy-nilly (as an example, ‘to willy-nilly split their infinitives’). It is pervasive. I read academic papers and they say ‘to rigorously show’, or ‘to adequately prove’. THIS IS HEINOUS! It is incorrect. I know people go on philosophical rants about “whose right is it to honestly choose (ha ha, get it?) what the right English is? Hey?”

I say, “Screw ‘em!” The correct English is that which obeys most readily the accepted linguistic rules. I can excuse 2nd/3rd language English speakers when this occurs. When I am not concentrating occasionally I fall into this colloquial speech trap (so devised by Americans to get us to speak as they do. Well… not consciously, but it is a driver). However, if I am reading a statement (by SASCO for example), or a journalistic piece of writing, or something else which is making every attempt to be ‘accurate’ then this bugs me. Just thought you should know. I dislike split infinitives. Irrational, but true.

Currently have 2 comments:

  1. much to my surprise, i came across several split infinitives in various philos texts here. i consulted fowler (1926) on 'modern' english usage (THE classic, apparently) (well, there are updated versions now, but who cares about them), and a spilt infinitive may correctly be used in certain circumstances where an emphasis in meaning calls for one. fancy that!