March 19, 2010

Protecting God's Grammarians

It's a beautiful day here in the City of Gracious Living, so I went out for a walk. I stopped into a local church to pray Sext, and I saw something curious on the vestibule bulletin board. On a large piece of paper a contract was presented: I agree to fully participate in the process of preparation for the sacrament of Confirmation.

Undersigned were the confirmandi, presumably. What a neat idea, I thought. This way the children are reminded each Sunday of their public commitment to the fullness of their sacramental initiation, and the rest of the faithful have the chance to know their fervor and pray for them by name.

However, some solicitous soul had tacked this note to the contract:

"Please don't split infinitives, especially in front of children." I laughed out loud.

My mother, who has some professional authority on such questions, says that the preference for integral infinitives in written English comes from the former prejudice for the normativity of Latin in academic and scientific writing. In Latin, of course, it is impossible to split an infinitive even if you want to. Since this normativity no longer obtains (except perhaps in Latin rite Catholicism) one no longer has to strictly apply the rule against splitting infinitives, if you know what I mean. In fact, my mother says that there is an age limit, which I have unfortunately forgotten. Those younger are allowed to willfully split infinitives, while those who are older may not.


carl said...

Father, my grammar education has been horrible? What is the correct way of writing the sentence, ie without a split infinitive?

Brother Charles said...

I suppose that the anonymous parish critic would have preferred I agree to participate fully in the process of preparation for the sacrament of confirmation.

That's what he or she would have wanted father to carefully write.

NCSue said...

Wonderful -

By your definition, I'm younger. I love to frequently split infinitives.


That was awkward.

Qualis Rex said...

The only way to NOT split infinitives in the English language would be to gingerly rejoin the "to" connoting the verb and the actual verb.

The original reasoning behind not wanting to split infinitives is archaic: English is a bastard language, which was invented when the Normans brought and imposed French, a Romance language on the Germanic Anglo-Saxon language. The "to" preceding the verb construct is artificial and was created to essentially stress the fact that a word used and pronounced the same as a noun, adverb and/or verb is actually a verb in a sentence. But since English has used the "to+verb" combo for about 600 years now, the reasoning is archaic, since we can identify an infinitive now regardless of how it is laid out in a sentence.

Language is fluid. If it weren't, we still be saying the "F├Žder ure". *shudder*

Brother Charles said...

QR, you are too cool! Thanks!

Qualis Rex said...

Father Charles, I never realized I'd be called "cool" for studying linguistics. But coming from you, it's like Vinnie Barbarino calling Horshac cool, so I'll take it.

Barb, sfo said...

QR, I'm glad I'm not the only one who enjoys linguistics.

Friar Charles, from the title of the post I thought it was going to be something on the subject of inclusive language. This was MUCH funnier!

Jeffrey Pinyan said...

I think "to boldly go" sounds better than "to go boldly". The adverb that splits an infinitive takes on greater emphasis, at least to my ear.

Luckily, this is one of those areas where Catholics can disagree, right? ;)