(urth) OT: split infinitive

Jerry Friedman jerry_friedman at yahoo.com
Thu Jul 30 17:20:36 PDT 2009

--- On Wed, 7/29/09, James Wynn <crushtv at gmail.com> wrote:
Jerry: > >>> 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
> >>> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Split_infinitive
> >> 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.

You didn't malign him--that article did.

> 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).

I missed the modernism part.

> 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 don't know--is an objective reason that makes no sense
better than no objective reason?
> 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.

You have a good memory.  According to /American Heritage
Book of English Usage (quoted at the Wikip article), the
KJV has no split infinitives.

> 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.

Interesting point.

> 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.

Sure, it's possible, and many experts have said so.  But I'd
like to see some evidence.

To wrench this back on topic, does Mr. Wolfe ever split
infinitives?  Do his characters?  After all the work I've
done on the Wikipedia article, you'd think I'd have noticed,
but I haven't.

Jerry Friedman


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