[Taxacom] Split infinitives in scientific writing
Nicholasa at ukzn.ac.za
Fri Nov 8 09:13:59 CST 2013
Thanks for all the feedback. I agree we need to relax this rule -- especially if changes emphasis or meaning. I brought it up only because someone recently read one of my student's manuscripts we are preparing for publication -- and the reviewer took my student to task (quite harshly) and also suggested I should not have let it slip through as senior author. I glad though that most people have a more relaxed and pragmatic attitude to this. Thumbs up to evolving language -- albeit one that does so sensibly.
From: John Landolt [mailto:JLANDOLT at shepherd.edu]
Sent: 08 November 2013 16:30
To: Richard Jensen; Ashley Nicholas
Cc: TAXACOM (Taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu)
Subject: RE: [Taxacom] Split infinitives in scientific writing
I agree that it is usually a trivial matter whether or not one chooses to place an adverb between "to" and the specific verb of a full infinitive. Almost always either splitting or not sounds the same to me in terms of meaning.
So it may be that the "old" grammatical rule in English to avoid splitting a full infinitive form of a verb with the "incorrect" insertion of an adverb is no longer something upon which to insist.
Having said that, I find it a little ironic that we are willing to fudge some English grammar rules, but go to great lengths to preserve Latin grammar rules in taxonomy.
I'm not sure that the parenthetical in Dick J.'s first paragraph actually contains an infinitive to split. I could be wrong.
Nice change of pace thread.
Cheers to all.
From: taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu [taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu] on behalf of Richard Jensen [rjensen at saintmarys.edu]
Sent: Friday, November 08, 2013 8:52 AM
To: Ashley Nicholas
Cc: TAXACOM (Taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu)
Subject: Re: [Taxacom] Split infinitives in scientific writing
"Not splitting an infinitive" is one of those old grammatical rules that is often ignored. In fact, it has been ignored by many writers (great writers, great science writers, and the rest of us as well) for hundreds of years. The idea was to ensure that there was no confusion about what the adverb was modifying (that's my understanding, but I could easily be wrong). In fact, if nothing jumped out at you in my parenthetical comment, then it seems that the point has been made. For a purist, I should have typed something such as "easily could be wrong" or "could be wrong easily", or "could, easily, be wrong". Do all of these have the same meaning?
Further, your "correct way" to write your last example, " to go boldly"
isn't necessarily the "correct" way. What's wrong with "Boldly to go" as a correct form. Does it have the same meaning? And, is anyone (even a novice to the language) likely to misunderstand "to boldly go". This seems to place greater stress on "boldly" as part of the action. As I recall, that point was made by Strunk - inserting the adverb into the infinitive is often done to place emphasis on the adverb.
Are we being too pedantic if we insist on never splitting an infinitive?
Or, as many argue, should we recognize that language evolves and the rules that govern modern usage are just as subject to such change as the rules that are no longer considered necessary? Yes, science writing needs to be precise, but is there a real difference between "to immediately separate"
and "to separate immediately"?
On Fri, Nov 8, 2013 at 6:28 AM, Ashley Nicholas <Nicholasa at ukzn.ac.za>wrote:
> Hi everyone,
> Split infinitives are a constant sources of problems to my students,
> especially those whose mother tongue is not English. And I must
> confess I also slip up now and again.
> I am busy compiling a list of commonly use split infinitives found in
> scientific/taxonomic writing (that need to be corrected) as a hand-out
> for my students. I would be most grateful to those of you that have
> examples to please send these to me (I will acknowledge you in the student hand-out).
> Maybe do this privately so I don't clog up this Listserver with (what
> is in comparison to other topics) a minor thread.
> A split infinitive I come across frequently in student and postgrad
> work is "to scientifically test" which should be "to test scientifically".
> Albeit, Word is now quite good at picking these up. Being a "Star Trek"
> Fan, the most well know split infinitive is of course "To boldly go
> where no one has gone before". Which should be "To go boldly where no
> one has gone before" - but the correct version just doesn't have the
> same emotional impact.
> How seriously do editors and reviewers take mistakes like this?
> Regards, in haste.
> Ashley Nicholas (PhD)
> Associate Professor & Curator Ward Herbarium Academic Leader
> Biodiversity & Evolutionary Biology Cluster School of Life Science,
> Westville Campus University of KwaZulu-Natal, Private Bag X54001,
> Durban, 4000, South Africa
> Tel.:+27-31-260 7719 Fax.: +27-31-260 2029
> ban/nicholasa.aspx nicholasa at ukzn.ac.za<mailto:nicholasa at ukzn.ac.za>
> Empirical scientists do not deal with the truth, we deal with hypotheses.
> At their best these hypotheses are insightful and predictive, however,
> nonetheless experience has shown that they are often only a poor
> approximation of reality and therefore the truth.
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