July 14, 2005

No splitting in court

The British tend to be severe about split infinitives. Case in point: a passage from John Mortimer's story "Rumpole and the Sporting Life", in the collection Rumpole and the Golden Thread (originally published 1983; from the reprint The Second Rumpole Omnibus, p. 379):

'That is all I have to say in opening this sad case, members of the jury,' [prosecutor Mervyn] Harmsway finished. 'And now, with the assistance of my learned friend Mr Gavin Pinker, I hope to fairly put the evidence before you.'
'You are causing me a great deal of pain, Mr Harmsway.' A dry voice came from the Bench.
'I'm sorry, my Lord?' Harmsway looked puzzled.
'Please. Don't split them.' The Judge was looking extremely pained.
'Don't split what, my Lord?'
'Your infinitives!' his Lordship cracked back. 'This is a distressing case, in all conscience. Do we have to add to the disagreeable nature of the proceedings the sound of you tormenting the English language?...

Hmmm... accusative plus gerund. Dubious on your own standards, my Lord.

[This was originally posted under the title "Splitting infinitives in court", but then I had a better idea.]

zwicky at-sign csli period stanford period edu

Posted by Arnold Zwicky at July 14, 2005 09:13 PM