(urth) OT: split infinitive

James Wynn crushtv at gmail.com
Wed Jul 29 11:56:08 PDT 2009

>>>Speaking of pet peeves, that article hit one of mine.
>>>Lowth's grammar book never mentions split infinitives.
>>>Yes, I read the whole book looking for that.  Everything
>>>I know about split infinitives (and some things other
>>>people know) is at

>>I was taught that the rule against split infinitives comes from the
>>oppression of Latin grammar imposed on English.
>.Latin infinitives are one word; hence English infinitives
>>must be treated as one word.

>I'd be interested in any citation earlier than the one
>in the Wikipedia article (John Opdycke, 1941).

Sorry for maligning Lowth without checking whether it was so. Based on the 
other works cited in the wiki article, it appears that some 19th cen. 
stylists believed that it was merely the most common accepted usage and the 
arguments against splitting infinitives were generally arguments against 
supposed modernism (Realist literature and the like). It is interesting to 
me, the number of cited 19th cen authorities who argued for this rule 
without offering any objective reason at all. So Opdycke is to be commended 
at least for that.

I wonder whether Opdycke was not on to something though. I can't think of an 
instance where the infinitive is split in the King James Bible. If one is 
reading a lot of literature closely translated from Latin or Romance 
languages, rather than vernacular literature, you might not run into many 
split infinitives. Think of the wordy feel of the personal letters of 
18th-19th centuries. There seems to have been little drive toward the 
ordinary concisiveness of casual speech (which infinitive splitting affords) 
until you get to writers like Mark Twain who adopted a folksy tone ("I get 
paid as much for using the word 'city' as I do 'metropolis'"). Isn't it 
possible that split the infinitive rule was derived from writing patterns 
influenced by English works translated from other languages? So, indirectly, 
Opdycke might have put his finger on the root of the rule.


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