Why to boldly split your infinitives is now acceptable Oxford English

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The Independent Online
ENGLISH TEACHERS no longer need tear their hair out when recalcitrant students repeatedly split infinitives. The New Oxford Dictionary of English has decreed for the first time that it is acceptable to completely split your verbs.

The dictionary, which has been billed as the most important new English dictionary for 100 years, was published yesterday and, say its publishers, is the first genuinely international dictionary of English as a world language.

It is "the first English dictionary written from scratch by Oxford for over 70 years", according to its publisher. The Oxford University Press started from scratch to redefine every word in the language and its contemporary meaning. Helen McManners, a spokeswoman for OUP, said: "We started compiling it six years ago. It was an absolutely monumental task."

The dictionary contains 350,000 words, including more than 2,000 new ones - from"shock jocks" to "alcopops" and "dumbed down" - and also gives advice on the minefield of political correctness.

The use of black, white or person of colour are deemed acceptable, but "spinster", "squaw" and "harelip" are offensive. "Poetess" and "authoress" are now considered to be sexist and patronising.

Around a quarter of a billion words of written and spoken English have been analysed in preparing this work, which "identifies the core meanings of each word for the first time, taking account of new psychological theories of how the human mind constructs 'universal cognitive prototypes', and how all language works through analogy with these".

It also insists that the word "bonk" is intransitive. The core meaning of bonk: informal, verb [with obj.] is given as "knock or hit (someone or something) so as to cause a reverberating sound", but the secondary meaning, [no obj] Brit, is "have sexual intercourse". In other words two people may bonk together, but one may not bonk another. As far as Oxford is concerned, if you want to do any transitive bonking, the correct term is "shag". However, while bonking is merely informal, shagging [with obj.] is vulgar.

The new approach has, in general, undeniably led to a dictionary with simpler, clearer, shorter definitions than many in the past. There is also much good advice on contentious issues such as the pronunciation of "pronunciation" and the wisdom of splitting infinitives (which is viewed as "both normal and useful" without even mentioning that doing it too often is terrible style).

But one cannot help worrying about the universal cognitive prototypes that led to an intransitive bonk.

What the New Dictionary Says

"THE DISLIKE of split infinitives (eg to boldly go where no man has gone before) is long-standing but ... not well-founded, being based on an analogy with Latin. In Latin, infinitives consist of one word, which makes them impossible to split: therefore, so the argument goes, they should not be split in English either.

"But English is not the same as Latin. The placing of an adverb in English is extremely important in giving the appropriate emphasis ... to go boldly where no man has gone before, where the infinitive is not split, conveys a different emphasis or sounds awkward.

"Some traditionalists may continue to uphold the split infinitive as an error in English. In standard English the principle of allowing split infinitives is broadly accepted as both normal and useful."