Alec Nevala-Lee

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Archive for December 14th, 2014

“To fling oneself desperately out of temptation…”

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Fowler's Modern English Usage

[Certain] people betray by their practice that their aversion to the split infinitive springs not from instinctive good taste, but from tame acceptance of the misinterpreted opinion of others; for they will subject their sentences to the queerest distortions, all to escape imaginary split infinitives…

But when the dexterity is lacking disaster follows. It does not add to a writer’s readableness if readers are pulled up now and again to wonder—Why this distortion? Ah, to be sure, a non-split diehard!…It is of no avail merely to fling oneself desperately out of temptation; one must so do it that no traces of the struggle remain. Sentences must if necessary be thoroughly remodeled instead of having a word lifted from its original place and dumped elsewhere…

Let us take an example: “In these circumstances, the Commission, judging from the evidence taken in London, has been feeling its way to modifications intended to better equip successful candidates for careers in India and at the same time to meet reasonable Indian demands.” To better equip? We refuse “better to equip” as a shouted reminder of the tyranny; we refuse “to equip better” as ambiguous (better an adjective?); we regard “to equip successful candidates better” as lacking compactness, as possibly tolerable from an anti-splitter, but not good enough for us. What then of recasting? “Intended to make successful candidates fitter for” is the best we can do if the exact sense is to be kept, it takes some thought to arrive at the correction; was the game worth the candle?

H.W. Fowler, A Dictionary of Modern English Usage

Written by nevalalee

December 14, 2014 at 9:00 am

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