Ten years ago, I met someone who changed my life. It was my supervisor at university. I thought I would learn from him all sorts of things about the innermost workings of tiny creatures. I did, of course, but far more importantly he taught me to be a writer. Or at least to think about being a writer.
Let’s be honest here – I’m a terrible scientist. Really. I was treated for acid in the eye more than once, and spent some time cleaning herpes off the pages of my lab book. Bad scientist. Because of this, my very understanding supervisor allowed me to do an entirely text-based dissertation, on the origin of life on earth and early bacterial evolution. I enjoyed writing it enormously, and he gave me very positive feedback. Except for one point (which he really hammered home): don’t split infinitives.
I nodded, with a blank expression on my face, the first time he said that. I didn’t have a clue what it meant. It turned out I’d been splitting infinitives left, right and centre. It was completely normal for me – thoughts ran from my head directly onto the page, and never got checked or refined. I wrote how I spoke. With split infinitives.
Strange things have happened since that day. I’ve learnt to hate split infinitives. Of course, I know it’s ridiculous (‘to go boldly’ doesn’t have quite the same kick as ‘to boldly go’), old-fashioned and stuffy. But I can’t help it. Sometimes I consciously override my natural instincts, sometimes I just let them be.
This sort of illustrates the reason I’ve started this blog. The split infinitive should be discussed. It should be debated. We should all have an opinion, or at least understand it enough to decide not to have an opinion. Sadly, I feel this kind of care for the English language is disappearing. It’s time to save the apostrophe.
March 23rd, 2013 at 8:47 pm
I suffer from ‘Bernard syndrome’ which equates to an over-identification with the character of that name from ‘Yes, Minister’. Bernard always pointed out – politely and apologetically – the crimes committed against English by Jim Hacker or Sir Humphrey Appleby. So I sympathise greatly…