ancient thread

minnow at belfry.org.uk minnow at belfry.org.uk
Sun Oct 5 15:16:05 EDT 2003


A long time ago, Robyn explained:

>Robyn wrote
>
>>For anyone who was curious - I am going to read the passage to my
>>stylistics class to illustrate to them why they need to fully understand
>>the rules of grammar.

and after a certain amount of other contribution, Widdy wrote,:

>Acutally the indictment against splitting infinitives is a hold-over
>from grammarians who tried to import the rules of Latin grammar into
>English.

Many things are a hold-over from Latin, and since (on the whole) it is no
longer taught many of them appear quite pointless to many people.  I'm not
sure this is a good argument for abandoning them, unless one knows what
they are and why they are there, and is making a considered judgement.  The
sorrow is that whereas in the language, throwing away the rules leads to
nothing worse than mild pain for those few remaining people who care about
the rules, style, and so forth, the general perception that
rules-don't-matter may, in other fields, lead to all sorts of lethal
trouble.  Literally lethal, if the rules of engineering (oh, that old
stuff) are ignored and the bridge collapses, for instance.  Or the safety
rules (silly old rules!) are ignored by for instance high-ups at NASA, or
in pharmaceutical companies, or firework-manufacturies, or -- make your own
list.

>Splitting an infinitive is no longer considered the breach of
>protocol it once was. One should not do it willy-nilly, but it's no
>longer considered a mortal sin.

I suspect that in order not to do it willy-nilly one needs to know that the
infinitive exists.  Just as not having the faintest idea what an apostrophe
is, nor of the reasons for its existing at all, leads to a certain amount
of nonsense.  The London tube map shows "Earl's Court" and "Barons Court"
on it  -- the Earl owns a court, whereas the barons go courting, I suppose;
ob DWJ, her comment on the notice "DANGER. CONTRACTORS ENTRANCE" was "Do
they?"  One misses some mild amusement as well as some mild irritation if
one doesn't know the rules...

>(spending a lot of time readin usage books these days!)

Like etiquette books they often disagree with one another, in my experience.

Minnow


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