Tuesday, 27 January 2009

To boldly go...

I was fascinated to read this article from the New York Times and learn about the reasons for the confusion with President Obama's swearing in to office. Clearly the official got muddled up with his split infinitives, thus muddling the president elect, and ultimately requiring a re-run of the oath. The event was momentous enough without this quirky scrambling of words.

It reminded me of my own past. After many long hours, much scratching of head and several periods of brain-outage, I finally completed my dissertation for my History O-level. 'Dissertation' is what it was called, although few would feel it worthy of that title. Anyway, it was the only piece of coursework that constituted part of the final result, so the whole weight of passing this exam seemed to fall into those few pieces of paper.

I gave it to my Dad to read, as a final check. Some moments later, having read it carefully through (picture him: sage old man, peering through his half-rimmed specs, studiously reading his teenage daughter's scrawl...) Eventually the verdict came.

"It's good," he said. "Only two split infinitives."

Two split infinitives? Firstly I had to ask what they were, then I had to scour my hard work for these dreadful insults to the English language. I couldn't find them. In distress (obviously, the deadline was the next day) I confessed this to my father.

"Well, they can't be that important then."

I felt utterly deflated, so miserable that my work was not perfect. It hung over me: perhaps the examiners would also be split-infinitive pedants? 

But it turned out all right in the end: I got an A...

3 comments:

Working mum said...

After years of trying to explain them to my colleagues at report-writing time I now find that the Oxford English Dictionary have deemed them permissible! So, no, not that important!

Catharine Withenay said...

Phew!
Thank you!
Years of anxiety lost in an instant!!

The Dotterel said...

How grateful not to have an Academy Anglaise, eh? I'll now boldly go to another blog. See you soon!

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