Errors & Omissions: It's better safely to prepare a Japanese fugo fish than split an infinitive
Saturday 04 June 2011
Safe splits: A news story yesterday reported on a club that will offer London diners the celebrated Japanese poisonous fish: "The torafugu is one of the most toxic marine creatures. It is extremely difficult to safely prepare, and consequently among the priciest dishes on Japanese restaurant menus."
Let's not be too hysterical about never splitting infinitives. Indeed, this is one of the three great shibboleths of pointless pedantry. The other two are never to end a sentence with a preposition and never to begin a sentence with "And".
The wise advice of Fowler's Modern English Usage is to try to avoid splitting an infinitive, but if the alternative is an awkward sentence, split away. However, there is no such dilemma about "to safely prepare". Just make it "to prepare safely".
Enough said: "I was quick to note criticism of certain 'quality' newspaper editors who seemed intent on publishing giant photographs of Mad Men's Christina Hendricks whenever given the slightest excuse. Indeed I was careful to ensure my own written assault was accompanied by a sizeable picture of the said actress... It's only a matter of time before the said publication will be eagerly informing us that Christina is 'suddenly looking dangerously gaunt'."
That was 'High Street Ken' on Tuesday. Twice, in a 200-word diary item, up popped "the said". This irritating verbal tic seems to take adolescent delight in mocking legal language; and it is a cheap way of pepping up dull prose, a sort of party hat. "The actress" and "the publication" would look sadly flat, so make it "the said actress" and "the said publication" and suddenly you look bright, witty and chirpy.
Give it a miss: The world dropped "Miss" some time around 1985, along with calling unmarried women spinsters. Miss was replaced by Ms – which is itself seen less than it used to be. For women, as well as for men, titles of courtesy are used less and less. In emails it is now usual to address strangers by their first names. "Miss" survives now only as rhetorical flourish, usually when referring to posh little girls or young women in showbusiness. Thus, Philip Hensher last Saturday: "If a British accent can seem, even to a fellow countryman, a challenge, then perhaps we should not be so surprised that even mild examples prove difficult outside the country. Miss Cheryl Cole, the member of Girls Aloud who has carved out a secondary career as a talent show judge..." I think the main function of "Miss" here is to maintain Hensher's tone of lofty elegance.
And why not? No reason, except that it will jolt those readers who remember the gigantic tabloid dramas surrounding the marriage and divorce of Mr and Mrs Ashley Cole. Mrs (or Ms) Cole was once Miss (or Ms) Tweedy; she has never been Miss Cole.
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