Split Infinitives

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In 1926 Henry Watson Fowler published A Dictionary of Modern English Usage to great acclaim.

I found my edition (2009, with a new introduction and notes by David Crystal) on a remainder table one workday lunchtime and picked up a $52 hardback for a winning $12.  Yes, my colleagues were suitably impressed at my bargain-shopping prowess.

Here’s a sample of what H.W. has to say about split infinitives.

Henry Watson Fowler 1858-1933

Henry Watson Fowler 1858-1933

The English-speaking world may be divided into (1) those who neither know nor care what a split infinitive is; (2) those who do not know, but care very much; (3) those who know & condemn; (4) those who know and approve; (5) those who know and distinguish.  1.  Those who neither know nor care are the vast majority, & are a happy folk, to be envied by most of the minority classes; ‘to really understand’ comes readier to their lips and pens than ‘really to understand’, they see no reason why they should not say it (small blame to them, seeing that reasons are not their critics’ strong point), & they do say it, to the discomfort of some among us, but not to their own.   2. To the second class, those who do not know but do care, who would as soon be caught putting their knives in their mouths as splitting an infinitive but have hazy notions of what constitutes that deplorable breach of etiquette, this article is chiefly addressed.

And so it goes on, for two more enjoyable and erudite pages.

Elsewhere Fowler discusses (I’ve opened the book at random to P):

  • Polysyllabic Humour: ‘terminological inexactitude for lie or falsehood is a favourable example, but much less amusing at the hundredth than at the first time of hearing.’
  • Porcelain: ‘porcelain is china & china is porcelain; there is no recondite difference between the two things, which indeed are not two but one & the difference between the two words is merely that china is the homely term, while porcelain is exotic and literary.  See Working & Stylish Words.’
  • ‘Presidentess.  See Feminine Designations.’

Highly recommended!

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