To boldly split infinitives any time we like!

How did I miss the grammatical connection to today’s anniversary of the premiere of “Star Trek” 47 years ago? HOW? ::strikes her best Kirk-esque dramatic pose::

So, all right. I’ve gotten that out of the way. Onward!

“To boldly go where no man has gone before.” Later it was updated, during ST:TNG (yes, I’m a fan; what tipped you off?): “To boldly go where no one has gone before” avoided the sexist language of the original. However, that split infinitive continued to be a thorn in the side of prescriptivists everywhere.

The thing is: It doesn’t matter.

That hoary warning about splitting infinitives so many of us heard throughout our elementary education (and perhaps even into our high-school and undergraduate years) is wrong. How did it come to be, then?

Latin.

In Latin, it’s impossible to split an infinitive. The grammar simply doesn’t allow for it. Can’t be done. Over time, English grammarians tried to force the Latin grammar rules onto English, and came up with “don’t ever split an infinitive.” (What the result would be was never explained to my satisfaction. It’s not nearly as dangerous as, let’s say, splitting an atom.) To be honest, folks — it doesn’t matter. You can split infinitives if you like. You can not split them if you prefer. You can do both, as the situation calls for.

Also, as Patricia O’Conner points out in Woe Is I, occasionally the meaning changes when you don’t split that infinitive. “The landlord decided to flatly forbid singing.” Move flatly and see what happens. Go ahead, I’ll wait . . . See? It’s silly. (Of course, maybe the landlord’s a music teacher or someone with perfect pitch for whom off-key sounds cause physical pain. I don’t know. Still, I think it’s fairly safe to say that the meaning intended is to flatly forbid singing.)

It’s okay.

Nothing will explode if you split an infinitive. Seriously. They’re not like atoms.

2 thoughts on “To boldly split infinitives any time we like!

  1. At first, I totally read the bit about the landlord as “signing” and got really confused at the comment about music and flat notes.

    I’m tired; my brain is switching up letters.

    Anyway, glad to see that ’tis okay to split infinitives, because, well…I wasn’t going to stop. 😉

    Like

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