The “Split Infinitive” And Other Idioms -- By: Herbert William Magoun

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 076:301 (Jan 1919)
Article: The “Split Infinitive” And Other Idioms
Author: Herbert William Magoun


The “Split Infinitive” And Other Idioms

Herbert William Magoun, Ph.D.

America is sometimes called a country of fads. There is a certain amount of truth in the allegation; for we do take kindly to innovations, even when they are not only no improvement on but also when they are positively inferior to what we already have. We are unduly fond of change and variety. It seems to be in the blood. Furthermore, we are not always as particular as we might be with regard to the method of obtaining it. If it is new or “up to date” or “the latest,” that suffices. We must have it. We wish to be known as persons who are not “behind the times.” Correctness and accuracy are not as important in our eyes as being right up to the minute in the newest ideas. We do not question those ideas as closely as we ought, and we are therefore credited, on the part of our European critics, with a degree of gullibility that is by no means nattering. In part we deserve it.

One of our recent ideas, stoutly maintained by Andrew Lang, is the notion, falsely credited with the support of Thomas R. Lounsbury, that the infinitive is never to be “split,” meaning thereby that its “to” is never to be separated from it by an adverb. How much mischief this mistaken doctrine has created, was not brought to my attention, until a recent graduate of a country high school threw up her hands in holy horror over such an infinitive and decided that its perpetrator must be an ignoramus. She could hardly have been convinced that the actual ignoramus was the man who was responsible for her views. In reality, she belonged in the same narrow-minded class as a worthy Southern gentleman named Dixon, who said, late in life, that he had many sins to answer for, but he did thank the good Lord that he had never sunk so low as

to vote the Republican ticket! Comment is hardly necessary.

While this incident was still fresh in my mind, the editor of The Boston Transcript drew a vigorous protest from Hon. John D. Long by condemning such infinitives in an editorial. The protest was never answered, so far as I am aware. This is what he said: —

“Will you tell me why in your editorial you say that the split infinitive is a ‘grammatical abomination ‘? Is the outcry against it anything more than a fad — a conventional way of suggesting that the would-be critic is up in his English? Why not split the infinitive as well as the indicative, which everybody does, as, for instance, Macau-lay writes ‘Berlin was again occupied by the enemy’? Would it have been any less elegant or clear to say ‘the enemy were able to again occupy Berlin,’ so far as the split infinitive is concerned?

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