Mighty Red Pen

May 28, 2008

Splitting hairs

In the article by Jan Freeman that I posted about yesterday, she mentioned a recent post on Language Log called “Crazies Win.” I didn’t follow up, but a subsequent comment by the ever-vigilant TootsNYC compelled me to check out what the fuss was all about.

Well, what I found was a kerfuffle about split infinitives to rock the blogosphere the likes of which I’ve not seen since the whole National Grammar Day incident. Word nerds gone wild!

If you can tease out the threads worth reading from the name-calling and hurt feelings, there are two interesting conversations going. One is about the basic issue of splitting infinitives (to do it or not to do it?) and the other is about grammar rules: to apply or not to apply, when, and why or why not? A commenter calling herself “Linda the Copy Editor” chimed in:

I’m sure this will make you all laugh, but I wish commenters could distinguish between “prescriptivists” who have some idea what they’re talking about and “prescriptivists” who don’t. To me, people who don’t accept singluar “they,” for example, might be compared to people who think it’s unethical to take ballpoint pens home from the office.

Check out the Language Log post got the party started (read the comments, too) and then check out the post on the blog Punctuality Rules! that kept it going all night long. And at times like this, I like to conclude with the sage words of John McIntyre at You Don’t Say, who gives the issue a proper round-up.


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