James T. Kirk was way ahead of his time in deciding "to boldly go"
into far-flung galaxies. The "Star Trek" captain was out there
splitting infinitives in his 1960s TV science-fiction series long
before the "official" green light was given.
Now, in the New Oxford Dictionary of English (NODE), 30 editors
and 60 consultants around the world have sided with Captain Kirk and
given their blessing to what some grammatical sticklers still regard
as anathema or worse.
Indeed, the compilers not only approve of splitting infinitives
but also seem bent on dividing the English-speaking world - or at
least the part of it that cares about language and grammar.
Among the volume's more than 2,000 new words and phrases, split
infinitives rub shoulders with "shock jocks," "Blairite," "alcopops,"
"tamagotchi," and "zero tolerance" as acceptable present-day usage.
Even "dumbing down" wins approval from NODE chief editor Judy
Pearsall, whose publisher - the highly regarded Oxford University
Press (OUP) - claims the volume is the most important new English
dictionary to appear in more than 100 years.
Among dissenters is the London-based Queen's English Society.
Joyce Morris, the society's patron, says English needs to be
protected from "error and pollution." By that measure, she insists,
the OUP has done violence to the language of Shakespeare. "Approving
of split infinitives is like abolishing history," Dr. Morris
declares. "The OUP is very powerful. If we go on doing this, we
shall create a ghetto class who can't write application letters and
won't get jobs."
Morris is calling for the creation of an English Academy similar
to the Acadmie Franaise in Paris, which attempts to safeguard the
French language from corruption by foreigners.
In producing the NODE, the OUP used a computer database of more
than 200 million words. The compilers redefined every word in the
English language using its contemporary meaning. The completed
volume contains 350,000 words and took six years to complete.
Faced with sharp reactions to her lexicographical judgments,
editor Pearsall is unrepentant. She says dislike of split
infinitives is "not well-founded" and is based on a false analogy
"In Latin, infinitives consist of only one word (e.g., amare - to
love), which makes them impossible to split; therefore, so the
argument goes, they should not be split in English either. But
English is not the same as Latin," Pearsall writes in her
introduction to the dictionary. …