The evils of the world take on many guises: gossip at the Cap Bar, skipping class after a night of “over-indulgence,” large, brown, six-legged insects that scurry across the floors of “Old Mill,” and the list goes on. The particular evil I am addressing here, though, is scary in its commonness and people’s relative ignorance of its existence.
These evils are heard daily in television broadcasts and in the mouths of learned radio hosts every minute. They burgeon in movies, magazines, newspapers, and they cannot be avoided even in books. There is one on the sign on the gate of “Old Mill,” and there is one that is programmed into my computer system that is unavoidable. Listen to any conversation lasting more than 99 seconds, and you are bound to hear at least one. They are thriving in modern society and show no sign of slowing their infection. They are split infinitives.
What is a split infinitive, you may ask? Your professors may circle them in red ink on your papers and write beside them, “S.I.” Before this happened to me, I was as happily unaware of the sneaky little devils as many of my readers most likely still are. Please allow yourself to be informed: An infinitive is an un-conjugated verb, such as, “to run,” or, “to talk.” When a person splits an infinitive, he or she puts some sort of qualifier or phrase in between the two words, normally an adverb. It is easy to do, especially when speaking quickly or when searching for accuracy.
The occasional split of an infinitive is almost unavoidable, and I say forgivable. However, it becomes a problem when people completely overlook the rules of proper grammar because they are too lazy to put forth the effort to speak correctly, or when they are simply unaware of the rules.
Now there are plenty of misunderstandings about “there,” “their” and “they’re” out there, and enough problems with number agreement for gender inclusivity purposes to fill volumes, so why make such a fuss over the mildly offensive S.I.? I answer, because there is no fuss! The split infinitive is rarely acknowledged. Soon enough, I fear, the entire rule may fade into nothing more than a mysterious relic and with it, all order and propriety.
Perhaps my fears are exaggerated, but if one compares published works from a hundred years ago to the common rubbish that is being accepted as literary genius now, one may begin to understand my concern. Not to be mistaken, I find the evolution of language fascinating and realize it is a part of life. However, I think evolution should involve improvement and sophistication, not the reverse, and certainly not degradation for sloth’s sake.
Let me finish by saying that I myself am as guilty of committing solecisms as anyone. It is my desire, in any case, that my rant has made readers at least slightly more attentive to the problem of language, and perhaps UD will be able to slow the critical, continual dilapidation of grammar, at least as regards the split infinitive. Ignorance may be bliss, but, wouldn’t you agree, when it comes to grammar, it is better to know how to correct one’s mistakes and be charmingly eloquent than to continue to make the same, silly errors? You never know, maybe by correcting this minor faux pas you can raise that B on your Lit. Trad. paper to a B+, all while earning the respect of the world’s intellectuals and at the same time, saving the English language from further demise! Even if you don’t share in my loathing for the S.I., you might at least have some respect for “language manners,” as I call them, and anyway, we can all agree that it would do us all a bit of good to think a little more before we speak.