March 17, 2009

To boldly split

Mick cites Mitt:
the Obama administration was wrong to initially defend the bonuses
I hiccupped over this split infinitive and began a post titled "Mitt Romney, you are dead to me", but on reflection it's ok; "was wrong initially to defend" is unclear and "was wrong to defend the bonuses intitially" sounds weaker. Therefore Romney remains my preferred conservative for 2012. Phew!

I don't care about grammar. English doesn't care about grammar. Grammar is a means to an end. The end is clarity with euphony. If infinitive splitting serves that end, well fine, but it rarely does. "To boldly go" well emulates the plonking bathos of Star Trek and works in context, but "boldly to go" is better both for euphony and emphasis. English is not a prescriptive language and Shakespeare is the least prescriptive of writers, yet he split an infinitive but once and that was a special case.

I do not prohibit split infinitives; I prohibit dull language. We use language to think; dull language, dull thought. Keep your tools sharp. I am not that purist of whom the revered Raymond Chandler wrote:
By the way, would you convey my compliments to the purist who reads your proofs and tell him or her that I write in a sort of broken-down patois which is something like the way a Swiss-waiter talks, and that when I split an infinitive, God damn it, I split it so it will remain split..