Oxford caves, ending centuries-long ban on split infinitives

Copyright (c) 1998 Nando.net
Copyright (c) 1998 The Associated Press

OLD SAYBROOK, Conn. (October 26, 1998 12:32 p.m. EST http://www.nandotimes.com) -- It's time to officially abandon the rule against the split infinitive. Oxford dictionaries, makers of the self-proclaimed "last word on words," has ended its centuries-old ban on splitting infinitives.

Some language purists are unhappy with the change. They say the infinitive -- a verb with "to" in front of it -- always should remain joined. For example, the infinitive "to jump" should be modified as "to jump quickly," they say, and never "to quickly jump."

"I do think it's a great sadness that the Oxford dictionary is doing this," said Loftus Jestin, head of the English department at Central Connecticut State University. "Hearing split infinitives is like listening to Mozart when the pianist keeps hitting all the wrong notes."

"I do not dine with those who split infinitives," said Samuel Pickering, a University of Connecticut English professor who is considered to be the inspiration for the lead role in "The Dead Poets Society."

The change is included in the new Oxford American Desk Dictionary, which came out last month. The dictionary says the prohibition on split infinitives can lead to "awkward, stilted sentences."

Frank Abate, editor in chief of Oxford's U.S. dictionaries program in Old Saybrook, says the rule is arbitrary. The rule has its basis in Latin, and as Abate points out, we don't speak Latin.

"There's essentially no validity to it," Abate said.

Random House, Strunk and White and others already have given their approval to split infinitives.

But this is Oxford after all, publisher of the venerable unabridged Oxford English Dictionary -- the hallowed 20-volume, 138-pound, 21,730-page O.E.D. It is considered by many the authority on the King's English.

Oxford University Press first lifted the moratorium in its British edition last year.

Cindy Butos, assistant director of the writing center at Trinity College in Hartford, is thrilled with the change.

"I think it's terrific," she said. She said it frees people from an unnecessary rule that doesn't contribute to the English language.