Sunday, March 06, 2011

National Grammar Day in the USA - The Economist

Last Friday was National Grammar Day on America. The Johnson Blog in The Economist website is not sure how to appropriately celebrate the occasion and suggests "Split an infinitive?". 

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First - what is a "split infinitive"? According to WordNet Search it is defined as "an infinitive with an adverb between `to' and the verb". Perhaps the best known example of all time is the statement by Captain Kirk at the beginning of each of the classic Star Trek episodes that their mission was "to boldly go" where no one had gone before. Apparently to grammatically be correct, this should be "to go boldly".

I was once told by an Editor (Siobhán P.) that the world is divided into two types of people - those that care about split infinitives, and those that don't.

After reading the Johnson Blog, I was reminded of the occasion of my viva voce for my PhD in Trinity in 1988. After a long and sometimes tough discussion about my research it came to the point when I was to finally find out if my dissertation was to be rejected, accepted, or accepted with modifications. I was confident that it wouldn't be rejected, and hoped that if accepted that I would not be required to make any serious changes. The good news I got was that it was to be accepted (lots of joy at this!) - but the bad news was that I had to unfortunately make some changes. My external examiner had spotted several split infinitives and he wanted them corrected - nothing else! This was during the time when word-processors were not widely used (though I had used a Mac), and when fully hard-bound submissions were required. So - I did not want to redo everything, so I simply corrected the split infinitives and printed out the text using the same font as the dissertation. I then cut out the words and pasted them with glue onto the copy of my dissertation that was to be sent to the Graduate Studies Office (and which now resides in the TCD Library). I then decided to completely ignore split infinitives for the rest of my life.

How many split infinitives can you spot in this post? I make it 6!

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