Splitting the infinitive

In prehistoric times it was a major no-no to cheekily separate the particle ‘to’ from its infinitive verb. ‘Do not split the infinitive’ was the law of the land. ‘What in the world are you talking about?’ responded anyone born after 1960. In fact, since that time the rule has more or less been ignored.

And then came its death knell, on September 8, 1966:

Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before. – Star Trek

There is no longer any controversy, and for good or ill, the lowly adverb has flourished (despite ending in ‘-ly’, ‘lowly’ in this sentence is an adjective, and ‘adverb’ is a noun. Had to get that out there). Perhaps an adverb’s highest honor is to breezily insert itself into an otherwise mundane sentence.

An adverb’s highest honor is to breezily insert itself into an otherwise mundane sentence.

An adverb’s highest honor is to insert itself, breezily, into an otherwise mundane sentence.

What if we could do without adverbs altogether? The world would be a better place.

Inserted into an otherwise mundane sentence, the adverb felt mighty proud.

The adverb brightened the terminus of the otherwise mundane sentence.

It worked behind the scenes to buttress the verb’s presentation and eliminate the need for itself. This is an adverb’s highest honor.

Sentence stuffing

Why do some journalists feel compelled to stuff their entire thesis into a single sentence?

The time to advocate against zoning laws in Houston that left the city more prone to flooding during Hurricane Harvey is now. – The Guardian

I don’t know about you, but by the time I reached the end of the sentence, I had forgotten what the subject of ‘is’ was (it was ‘The time’. The time is now). Why can’t the authors be a little bit nicer to me and my fading short-term memory? After all, they do want me to understand their thesis.

Is this what they were trying to say?

Zoning laws in Houston left the city more prone to flooding during Hurricane Harvey. It is time to advocate against them.

Isn’t that better? Freed of the onerous single-sentence requirement, the authors might even have penned this:

It’s time we advocate against the existing meager zoning laws in Houston. They left the city open to intense flooding from Hurricane Harvey.

Or this:

Lax zoning laws in Houston left the city open to intense flooding from Hurricane Harvey. Down with those laws. They gotta go.

OK, maybe not that one, not for an impartial journalist. But wait, the original quote comes from an opinion piece. Coming down on one side of an issue: that is expected. And very often, the shortest sentence is the most effective.