How awkwardly to avoid split infinitives

July 11, 2012

No other grammatical issue has so divided the nation (Robert Burchfield)

When I split an infinitive, God damn it, I split it so it will stay split (Raymond Chandler)

So there’s a rule in English, except it’s not a rule, but some people think it is, and others who know it’s not a rule obey it in case it bothers the people who think it is, even though it can cloud or change the meaning of their prose. Ah, split infinitives: what an unholy mess.

A split infinitive is where an element, normally an adverb or adverbial phrase, is placed between to and the plain form of a verb – to boldly go is a well-known example. The construction is six or seven hundred years old; there’s nothing grammatically wrong with it, and there never has been. Usually it’s not even a stylistic lapse.

Before we continue, I should point out that split infinitive is a misnomer, since English doesn’t really have them. But it’s a convenient and familiar term, so I’ll use it.

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The Banshee Lives in the Handball Alley

December 29, 2010

The Banshee Lives in the Handball Alley is a collection of stories, superstitions and folklore (traditional and contemporary) told by children from three primary schools in Limerick city, Ireland. The stories were recorded and produced by Irish artists Michael Fortune and Aileen Lambert in 2004 and 2005.

The Banshee… has been described as “a celebration of the storyteller”, and – children being the best storytellers – it’s a lot of fun to watch or listen to. It was first screened in the infamous handball alley itself; you can see photos, along with more information about the project, at Fortune’s Folklore Collections website and at PublicArt.ie.

The video below is an excerpt from the film. I can’t pick a favourite moment, but I do love the debate about whether stepping on a crack will break your mother’s back, and the description of how the headless horseman (who apparently lived in Moyross) might have become headless: “he probably lost his head off a branch or something”.

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