Grammar Moses: If I were to intentionally split an infinitive, would you hold it against me?
I didn't know what a split infinitive was until my editor pointed it out to me deep into the last century when I was still wearing skinny ties and covering the Streamwood village board.
Dolores Zygowicz wrote to say, "I see so many and find them quite jarring. There was one right in your column: "to truly do right by ...' Are they now acceptable?"
I've come to appreciate over time that some people's passion for never splitting infinitives is based on the rigid, ruler-thwacking rules of Latin, upon which our language is based.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, an infinitive verb is one preceded by "to": to eat, to mumble, to drive. You get the picture.
I'm here to tell all of you who cowered in fear of your English teachers' catching you splitting your verbs that it doesn't even register as a venial sin.
People speak in split infinitives all the time. Only in very formal writing is it frowned upon.
In some cases, writing around a split infinitive alters the meaning of your sentence.
Consider this example, from the Oxford English Dictionary: "You have to really watch him."
"To watch" is the infinitive.
If you were a purist, you'd rearrange the sentence to: "You really have to watch him."
But those two sentences convey different thoughts.
The first, in which the modifier "really" splits the infinitive, means "You have to watch him closely."
The corrected version means "It's important that you watch him."
The most important thing -- as I always say -- is to write clearly. If a split infinitive creates an awkward sentence, which is common when you split your verb with a phrase rather than a single word, then avoid it.
I was editing a column last week in which the writer referred to someone as "taking up the mantel." He meant that person was assuming a role or position and the accompanying responsibilities.
This is a tricky homophone.
The word he was looking for is "mantle."
Of course, you could go to your neighborhood tailor and ask him to "take up the mantle," and he'd oblige by hemming your long cloak.
If you asked your house painter to "take up the mantel," he'd remove that shelf above your fireplace to avoid getting paint on it while he rolled your walls.
Ain't language fun?
If I know my audience, you've been to Las Vegas a time or two and probably noticed people selling cold bottles of water during the summer so that tourists walking the two miles between neighboring casinos don't turn into jerky before reaching the next tropical-scented, air-conditioned den of sin.
Jennifer Pearlstein Fleck shared on Facebook a picture of a sign that is aimed at combating that sort of entrepreneurship.
"This sign that is posted every 500 feet for a mile or so on the Las Vegas Strip blows my mind," she wrote. "I first saw them in September 2016 and to my dismay they were still there when we returned in August of this year."
So, what's her issue? "Violators will be trespassed."
I must assume that violators will be prosecuted or ticketed or at least shooed off the street.
But maybe someone was just thinking biblically.
"And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us ..."
"Trespass" in this instance means to commit an offense against.
But that can't possibly be the sign-maker's intention.
What's the next line of the Lord's Prayer? "and lead us not into temptation ..."
Hey, this is Vegas, the definition of temptation.
• Jim Baumann is vice president/managing editor of the Daily Herald. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Put Grammar Moses in the subject line. You also can friend or follow Jim at facebook.com/baumannjim.