Educated Americans have a tendency to think that (i) intelligence
can be directly assessed through the surrogate of compliance with the
rules of Standard English grammar, and that (ii) compliance with the
rules of Standard English grammar can be checked quickly and easily by
glancing in Strunk and White’s brainless little pamphlet of
19th-century grammar nonsense. Both propositions are wrong and
dangerous, yet tacit acceptance of them is widespread.
I have heard of a boss who openly declared that he wouldn’t have
anyone working for him who would write a split infinitive. When I
assault that as ridiculously misguided, a perversion of grammar
sensitivity, it’s not because the important thing is whether adverbs go
in between the meaningless marker to and the accompanying plain
verb in an infinitival clause. I’m not an idiot, and I don’t think the
exact location of adverbs and other verb phrase modifiers is something
to organize your life around. But that’s the whole point: it’s not me
who’s doing that, it’s this insane boss. What makes the issue a serious
one for me is that a man would judge intelligence and employability on
something like this. It does indeed display pig-ignorance of English
syntax and literary usage to be hung up on split infinitives, but
that’s the less important point. The more important side of it is that
this boss is a maniac who has his priorities all wrong. I’m worried not
about where his adverbs might go but about where his marbles have gone.
The danger is not about modifier location but about whether he will be
an insane boss in other ways as well. —Goeffrey K. Pullum, Language Log
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