Here’s a heads-up to staff in Chris Finlayson’s office – he is passionate that they should not sloppily split infinitives, or use Oxford commas.
Ten pages of guidelines have emerged, setting out the language the culture minister expects officials to use in correspondence and briefing papers.
It is accompanied by speech-writing instructions, with a list of more than 20 banned expressions.
Some people care about grammar and syntax because they love language and care about clarity of expression. Others are pedantic bores who derive some sad but creepy pleasure out of running around lecturing everyone on how they’re allowed to write and speak. Getting upset about split infinitives is a flashing warning sign that you’re in the second group. Here’s David Foster-Wallace on language and grammar nerds or, as he terms them, SNOOTS, and the split infinitive.
This is probably the place for your SNOOT reviewer openly to concede that a certain number of traditional prescriptive rules really are stupid and that people who insist on them (like the legendary assistant to PM. Margaret Thatcher who refused to read any memo with a split infinitive in it, or the jr.-high teacher I had who automatically graded you down if you started a sentence with Hopefully) are that very most pathetic and dangerous sort of SNOOT, the SNOOT Who Is Wrong. The injunction against split infinitives, for instance, is a consequence of the weird fact that English grammar is modeled on Latin even though Latin is a synthetic language and English is an analytic language. Latin infinitives consist of one word and are impossible to as it were split, and the earliest English Prescriptivists — so enthralled with Latin that their English usage guides were actually written in Latin — decided that English infinitives shouldn’t be split either.
Also telling: Thatcher fan-boy Finlayson has added the word ‘community’ to his list of banned terms.