According to Kory Stamper, a writer of (of all things) dictionaries at Merriam-Webster, there’s no logical basis for a law that says it’s wrong to wantonly split an infinitive. Even more startling, I can even pick any preposition I like to end a sentence with! And, as if that weren’t enough, its historically and grammatically consistent to drop the apostrophe from the “it-is” contraction and to put one in it’s possessive.
Just another sign that the world of order and certainty is crumbling into chaos! Definitely a good time to practice living in the not knowing.
I love words. I enjoy playing with words. And I get a kick out of plays on words. Yet, I’ve always felt strapped by my self-imposed anal compulsion to stick to and enforce the rules. Now, at last, an authoritative source has set me free! (Why do I need an authoritative source to begin with? Well, that’s a whole nother story. Or maybe even two nother stories.) So, let freedom wring all the creativity it can muster out of those words!
I first heard of Ms. Stamper and her new book Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries on April 19, 2017, when she was interviewed by Terry Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air. (You can listen to it here.) I have bought the book (print edition, if you please) and am thoroughly relishing the wit and wisdom she writes with.
She closes one chapter with the following, which, in my mind, pretty much sums up her thesis:
“We think of English as a fortress to be defended, but a better analogy is to think of English as a child…. Sometimes English goes places we don’t like and thrives there in spite of all our worrying. We can tell it to clean itself up and act more like Latin; we can throw tantrums and start learning French instead. But we will never really be the boss of it. And that’s why it flourishes.” p. 51
For more information:
A bookreview by Megan Garber in The Atlantic.