Good morrow my little scholars.
It is your beloved pedagogue. Yes, one is here, Moonbeam Farquhar Metheringham IV, creator of that seminal work of epic science fantasy ‘Fatswhistle and Buchtooth’ and all-round genius. One lifts one’s head from contemplation of the sheer beauty that is one’s own sun-bronzed torso merely in order to assist one’s spiritual children in their search for narratorial clarity and shine. Lazing as one does today with one’s head in the shade and one’s body soaking up Helios’ health-giving rays always makes one consider the immutable rules of grammar. And with a muted ‘pfft’ of disgust one seeks to debunk one such piece of iconic mythology…
But why then, one hears a voice from the back of the class speak up, are you troubling to teach us about these grammar rules at all? Detention on the naughty step for backchat. If one is to write with the flow and perfection of the greats, one needs to know the expected rules – and learn which one must observe and which may be discarded at will, oh foolish neophyte!
Now, read and learn.
How to Write Right – Lesson 4. The Write Infinite Splits
Grammar has about as many rules as there are stars in the gleaming firmament. And most of those rules were put there by grumpy old men in long dresses with unkempt beards. Men whose sole function was, it often appears, the rendering of language impenetrable and the making of writing the blandest and least appetising porridge imaginable.
Let us consider an example. The split infinitive.
You don’t know what an infinitive is?
Permits oneself a small sigh of utter weariness.
Those who are unaware of what constitutes an infinitive can just remove themselves to the naughty step immediately, taking with them their copy of ‘Practical English Usage’ and studying same until they can at least reliably identify the parts of speech.
The rest of you can jolly well stop flicking ink pellets at Metheringham Minor and pay attention or one will be amongst you armed with malacca. Better…
Hands up those of you who are ‘Trekites’, as we cognoscenti in the science-fiction world call fans of ‘Star Trek’. No. Do not disagree with your master, as his patience for such things is thin. However, you are all of you familiar with an iconic infinitive split: ‘to boldly go’
Wonders idly if there is such a thing as a grammarian Trekkian or if that might be a truly alien race.
Turns attention back to bewildered class.
The infinitive of the verb is – to go. The word boldly inserted between to and go splits the infinitive.
In order to achieve strict grammatical correctitude, Captain Kirk and his chums should have been adjured to go boldly, which, in one’s exquisitely tasteful estimation has not nearly the same impact. And perhaps even feels as if the meaning is not quite the same.
Consider the following
To walk quietly
To quietly walk
In theory, these mean the same. But do they conjure in the inner theatre of your mind’s eye the same result? Most certainly not! Knowing the mode in which the action is taken helps prepare the mind to add that action upon the screen of that inner theatre more perfectly than if the action is known before how it is being performed. Simple.
Think on this as you write: ‘To split, or not to split. That is the question. Whether ‘tis nobler to suffer the slings and arrows of outraged grammar Stasi…’
Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to cleverly write, to eagerly learn, and to humbly accept.