Antedating of "Split Infinitive"

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU
Sat Dec 27 22:48:01 UTC 2008

On Sat, Dec 27, 2008 at 4:02 PM, Benjamin Zimmer
<bgzimmer at> wrote:
> On Fri, Dec 26, 2008 at 8:36 PM, Shapiro, Fred <fred.shapiro at> wrote:
>> split infinitive (OED 1897)
>> 1890 _Scots Observer_ 13 Sept. 439 (British Periodicals Collection)  The
>> split infinitive ('to solemnly curse') is a captain jewel in the carcanet.
> Would be curious to know the context for this ornamental metaphor.

Just checked for myself. It's in a review of _Having and Holding_ by J.E.
Panton, which the reviewer calls "A Novel in Journalese". The metaphor (with
its Shakespearean echo noted by Chris) is, as you might expect, a bit of
prescriptivist sarcasm:

"_Having and Holding_ reads like the work of a promising beginner. Rich and rare
are the gems of its grammar. 'Every' has a plural verb; one thing is 'different
to' another; install is spelt with one 'l' and withal with two; 'art' becomes
an adjective; the split infinitive ('to solemnly curse') is a captain jewel in
the carcanet. 'As' invariably and with becoming modesty gives way to the
euphonious 'like' -- 'like our post-girl has done'; and you hear of a gardener
who is 'clerk and leader of the choir Sundays,' although no explanation offers
light to your darkness on the subject of a choir Sunday, and the duties of the
reader of a choir Sunday -- (which is perhaps a reminiscence of 'All the feet
of the hours that sound as a single lyre') -- cannot be compassed by a merely
human imagination."

--Ben Zimmer

The American Dialect Society -

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