Letter: To happily split

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The Independent Culture
Sir: John Sutherland ("Language, liberty and the English of our dictionaries", 14 August) is absolutely right about Oxford University Press's limp publicity stunt about the split infinitive, though it is hardly accurate to claim, "for the record", so recent a sanction for this usage as "two years ago", when in fact it has for the greater part of this century had the authoritative blessing of Flower in his Modern English Usage (1926, also published by Oxford).

After dividing the English-speaking world into "(1) those who neither know nor care what a split infinitive is; (2) those who do not know, but care very much; (3) those who know and condemn; (4) those who know and approve; and (5) those who know and distinguish", Fowler aligns himself with the last category, maintaining that "a real split infinitive, though not desirable in itself, is preferable to either of two things, to real ambiguity, and to patent artificiality".

Whatever The New Oxford Dictionary of English may say, split infinitives, while not altogether unavoidable, remain undesirable, not because of Latin grammar or because one wishes to show oneself superior, but simply for considerations of style. It may in the end be a matter of personal taste, but it is surely inelegant, in the example cited by John Sutherland, to say "to really remember", particularly when the word "really" - an over- used intensifier these days, anyway - is almost redundant.


Reading, Berkshire