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Octopodes:

Many usage debates, I think, are actually debates not just about the overtly contested words (e.g., "fulsome") but also about other words: "is," "should," "correct," "error." One commenter on the split infinitives thread, for instance, writes "It is generally bad form, to be sure, and it should be avoided." What I don't quite grasp here is what "is" and "should" mean here. Does that mean that the word is "bad form" in some objective sense, and should be avoided for some reasons that are in some sense obligatory? Or does it just mean "I don't like it, and I like writing that avoids it"?

Another commenter complains about people's use of "octopi" to mean "octopuses":

My favorite [faux language-police correction] was when I was corrected when referring to "the octopuses" by someone who told me that the correct plural was "octopi."

What makes this faux correction even better is that the split-infinitive police are correcting an acceptable option with another acceptable option. The octopus police are correcting an acceptable option with an error.

"Octopus" is not a Latin root, but a Greek one. A proper Greek plural would be "Look at those octopedes!" "Octopuses" is also correct. "Octopi" is not.

I certainly agree that "octopuses" is a perfectly legitimate plural for "octopus"; and I don't like "octopi," partly for the reasons that the commenter mentions.

But what exactly does "error" or "not" "correct" mean, when used about "octopi"? "Octopi" may well be bad Latin and bad Greek. But according to the English dictionaries that I've consulted, "octopi" is a fully standard English word. It may be grating to some people, because of its air of pedantry that proves to be etymologically ill-grounded pedantry. It may not represent "logical" etymology, though the life of the English language has often not been logical. Yet under what coherent and useful definition of "error" or "correct" can we condemn "octopi" as incorrect or erroneous, rather than merely inelegant?

UPDATE: For those who want more sources, the online Oxford English Dictionary reports for "octopus," "Plural octopuses, octopi, (rare) octopodes." Two of the examples it gives, an 1834 edition of Cuvier's Animal Kingdom XII and a 1942 National Geographic article, use "octopi." My New Shorter Oxford lists "octopi" as well; so does my American Heritage (4th ed.); so does the Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary.

While checking still more sources, I have found two contrary ones -- Garner's Modern American Usage calls use of "octopi" "mistaken[]," and the New Fowler's Modern English Usage says it is not "acceptable" and is "misconceived." Webster's Dictionary of Modern English Usage, on the other hand, doesn't condemn octopi. The majority (though not unanimous) view from the sources that I've consulted, then, supports octopi as an acceptable plural, and it's hard for me to see why the usage listed in the OED, the American Heritage, and the Cambridge would be "wrong."

anonyomousss (mail):
for what its worth, i think "octopi" sounds better than "octopuses," which just sounds silly. the same holds for "hippopotami" versus "hippopotamuses."
7.6.2006 4:31pm
Richard Bellamy (mail):
Having been quoted and re-threaded, I will copy my post here, answering the question of what standard I used to claim that "octopi" is "wrong":

----

Prof. Volokh,

My source is the Oxford English Dictionary in my office. While the complete one is not free online, the Compact OED's entry is linked to here, and verifies my claim. I quote in full:

octopus

• noun (pl. octopuses) a mollusc with eight sucker-bearing arms, a soft body, beak-like jaws, and no internal shell.

— DERIVATIVES octopoid adjective.

— USAGE The standard plural in English of octopus is octopuses. However, since the word comes from Greek, the Greek plural form octopodes is still occasionally used. The plural form octopi, formed according to rules for Latin plurals, is incorrect.

— ORIGIN Greek, from okto 'eight' + pous 'foot'.

----

To the extent your dictionary lists "octopi" as acceptable, I can only hold on to the authority of the OED and claim your dictionary is wrong.
7.6.2006 4:39pm
AC:
If I have to endure "snuck," other people can endure "octopi."
7.6.2006 4:50pm
Richard Bellamy (mail) (www):
I deny your linguistic relativism.

"sneak

• verb (past and past part. sneaked or informal, chiefly N. Amer. snuck)"

The OED gives a half-hearted endorsement to "snuck." "Octopi", however, is "incorrect."
7.6.2006 4:55pm
Frank J. (mail) (www):
I think I'll just keep talking the way I do irregardless of what anyone else may say :P
7.6.2006 5:06pm
Alan P (mail):
All this sea creature and past part. talk has left me wondering where I can get scrod?
7.6.2006 5:06pm
hls_steve:
Couldn't we say that it is erroneous because a person asserting that the plural of a word is formed by dropping the "--us" and adding an "-i" is implicitly asserting that the word is a Latinate, and in the case of "octopus" that implicit assertion is incorrect. Perhaps a person correcting someone else's use of the word "octopus" is unaware that he is making this implicit assertion, but I would submit that he is still making it, in that, I suspect, the reason he is correcting the use "octopuses" is not that he has consulted some dictionary that lists "octopi" as acceptable, but rather that he is inferring, on the basis of his experience with other word (of genuine Latin origin), that this is the correct way of forming the plural.

For what its worth, I actually like the way "octopodes" sounds, at least more than I like the way "octopi" or "octopuses" sound (personally I've always thought that "octopus" should be a word like "moose," that is, a word that is both the singular and plural (I'm using "should" in a purely subjective sense)).

Also, Eugene, I agree with you that there is nothing inherently wrong with split infinitives, I was wondering what your feelings were on whether the use of the passive voice ought to, as a general rule, be avoided. I, for one, think that people often object to the use of the passive voice in situations where it is completely appropriate (for instance, "be avoided" in the previous sentence.
7.6.2006 5:09pm
deweber (mail):
The similar issue that has rankled me since I took Greek in college is references to the hoi polloi. But I have concluded that it is being pedantic to complain about it and just snipe at it on those occasion when a snobish putdown is a necessary evil.
7.6.2006 5:26pm
Christopher M (mail):
As a Straight Dope staff article on a related question points out, a number of perfectly good English words have been formed through mistaken morphological reverse-engineering. Surely no one here is going to condemn the word "pea," but it's just as much a "mistake" as is "octopi": at some point people started to think the (perfectly good singular) word "pease" sounded like a plural form, and they figured the singular must therefore be "pea." And "uncle," of course, is a "mistake" based on the fact that it's hard to hear much difference between "a nuncle" or "my nuncle" and "an uncle" or "mine uncle."

So no, there is just no reasonable criterion for "correctness" other than what the people you're talking to will understand as "correct" (or better, understand as being correctly written in the register and tone you want your writing to have). And no, citing the OED doesn't get you anywhere. The OED's own stated purpose is not to prescribe correct usage but "to provide a record of how the English language is and has been used in writing and in speech." Its conclusory statement about what's "correct" can't trump the fact that "octopi" gets almost as many Google hits as "octopuses" and way, way more than "octopodes."
7.6.2006 5:28pm
Christopher M (mail):
My last comment contains an error -- after double-checking, I see that "nuncle" (in, e.g., Shakespeare) is a modification of "uncle," not the other way around. A better example is "apron," which really is a perfectly good English word even though it represents a "mistaken" mishearing of "a napron" as "an apron."
7.6.2006 5:34pm
lucia (mail) (www):
If only we could limit arguments about limiting greek and latin to "octopus". There was a time when a tiny fraction of fluid dynamicists argued about whether "velocimetry" or "anemometry" should be used to describe LDV (or LDA). (The technique is described here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laser_Doppler_velocimetry )

The greek/latin hybrid velocimetry remains a popular word particularly when measuring the velocity of something other than air.
7.6.2006 5:35pm
Mike Z (mail) (www):
I suppose this is a dead-horse-flogging item - the split infinitive thing comes from Latin, in which the infinitive was (is) a single word, so in Latin, you couldn't split it if you wanted to. Translations into a less-dead language (like English) kept the "to" with the verb, and the rest is history.

Our objective, though, should be to boldly go where medieval grammarians feared to tread.

Use of the passive voice, which should ordinarily be avoided, is useful in cases where you want to bring the object of the sentence up front, where it'll be noticed.
7.6.2006 5:57pm
KenB (mail):
The terms "error", "correct", "should/shouldn't be used", etc., have meaning only in relation to a standard, of course. When people use one of these terms, they might be thinking of an explicitly codified standard (e.g. dictionaries &grammars of standard literary languages, writing manuals for specific areas of study, elementary school lessons etc.), an unwritten standard based on their internal understanding of the linguistic rules (which derives from the usages they've been exposed to), or (most often in casual discussions) some combination of the two. Most arguments over whether a given usage is "correct" are usually just arguments over what standard should be used.
7.6.2006 6:17pm
oledrunk (mail):
Gentlemen:

Please send me an octopus.

Sincerely yours

P.S. While you are at it, send another one.
7.6.2006 6:35pm
Bruce:
I always thought "octopi" was a joke, like "meese."
7.6.2006 6:38pm
hls_steve:
Mike Z,
You said that the use of the passive voice "should ordinarily be avoided," and I realize that this is the conventional wisdom, but my question is why? As far as I know, the two most commonly given reasons are (1) that the active voice makes the writing more forceful (or livelier, or more persuasive), and (2) that use of the active voice usually makes the sentence shorter (and thus clearer).

As for (1), this seems like a matter of opinion, for instance, I don't see why "writers should ordinarily avoid the passive voice" is necessarily more forceful or lively than "the passive voice should ordinarily be avoided by writers." It seems like a matter of aesthetic preference, rather than a descriptive psychological fact, to say that one phrasing is more forceful or persuasive than the other.

As for (2), at least this is an empirical assertion (that it is generally shorter, clarity seems to be a matter of preference/opinion just like forcefulness). However, it does not seem to me that this is necessarily true. Use of the passive voice often allows you to drop the subject all together, and if the subject cannot be mentioned in one or two short words, then it is often shorter to use the passive voice (of course it may be the case that most of the time the subject of a sentence can be mentioned in one or two words, but this is clearly not always the case).

Of course, there are instances where using the passive voice will make a sentence awkward or cumbersome, but the same is true of split infinitives (as Professor Volokh pointed out in the split infinitive thread), either way, it is a problem with that particular usage, not with the passive voice per se.
7.6.2006 6:46pm
Dave Hardy (mail) (www):
The plural of octopus is the basis of a humorous passage in George MacDonald Frasier's novel Pyrates. Hilarious, BTW.
7.6.2006 6:54pm
Taeyoung (mail):
Yet under what coherent and useful definition of "error" or "correct" can we condemn "octopi" as incorrect or erroneous, rather than merely inelegant?
I think a linguist would say that the native speaker's idiolect is a perfectly "correct" grammar and lexicon and language all his own. The notion of correctness and error in language use requires that there be some quasi-objective standard form of a language. The standard is, of course, artificial in some sense -- the linguists and activists who developed the standard linguistic forms for various European languages (particularly the Germanic and Nordic languages) in the 19th century seem to have understood this, on some level, as they went about incorporating elements of different dialects into their final standardised national languages. But there is (broadly speaking) a shared social understanding that there exists some standard form of English, of Korean, of Mandarin, of German, of Japanese, etc. It's like the (mostly) shared understanding that the law has legitimate authority by virtue of its having the status "law".

Now that we have introduced, at least in principle, an artificial linguistic standard, it's only natural that people fight for control over it -- people criticise or shout down the interpretations that deviate from their preferred standard. Just as with the principles lawyers invoke to guide interpretation or formulation of the law, there are even various rules people will invoke to determine a "correct" definition or grammatical rule (theirs). Etymology is one example (as with octopus => octopodes). Historical use is another. Yet another -- one that is falling out of use somewhat -- is analogy to classical models. My understanding is that the split infinitive rule was derived from Latin, where infinitives simply cannot be split, because they are just another verb form.

Unlike the law (or at least, the law in ideal form -- reality may diverge from the ideal somewhat), there are not really agreed-upon rules for determining what goes into making up the standard form of the language. Other countries have the Academie Francaise, and the like, I suppose, which alleviates the problem somewhat. But we haven't.
7.6.2006 6:55pm
Michelle Dulak Thomson (mail):
I pulled an "octopi" inadvertantly once in a paper. I was writing about a place in a musical work where the edition gave the player a choice of two versions of the same passage. The second alternative in such cases is generally labeled "ossia," and I pluralized it as "ossiae." My professor explained to me that "ossia" is from Italian "o sia" (roughly "or thus"). He said "ossias" was fine, &I agree (though I'd probably italicize everything but the "s" myself).
7.6.2006 7:04pm
PersonFromPorlock:
Since English has its roots in Roman soldiers' haggling with British whores, the whole notion of 'proper' English is silly. What English is is the best pidgin in the world.
7.6.2006 7:33pm
ys:
MDT:
To be a pedant on a pedantic thread: "o sia" actually means "or else" - an emphasized exclusive "or". "Sia" being the third person singular present conjunctive of "essere" - to be - hence, something like "or be it". This was frequently used in 18/19th century to give a dual title to a piece work, e.g., in more than one Italian opera by Mozart (Don Giovanni, Cosi Fan Tutte, etc.). Same in Spanish with "o sea".
7.6.2006 7:36pm
Michelle Dulak Thomson (mail):
ys,

Quite right, of course. The "thus" was me attempting to make "or be it" look like a phrase in the English language. Look what trouble we get into when we attempt elegance!

And you're right: "O sia" is standard for dual-titled Italian operas, but "ossia" becane the standard for the usage I was describing. I don't know why the duplicated "s," but you see the same thing in "ovvere" (= "o vere"), which I've seen only in 19th-c. Italian opera.
7.6.2006 7:45pm
hls_steve:
just to add to the pedantic fun,

PersonFromPorlock,
Technically a pidgin stops being a pidgin after one generation. When it is taught to a subsequent generation, as that generation's first language it becomes a creole language. Thus, English cannot be called a pidgin, though you might call it a creole (although I believe the whole concept of creole and pidgin languages didn't actually come into being until the middle ages, and English—though certainly not modern American English—was already well established by then, so I don't think either term really makes sense when applied to English).
7.6.2006 7:48pm
ys:
MTD,

I don't know why the duplicated "s," but you see the same thing in "ovvere" (= "o vere")

Italian is just fond of double consonants and especially when joining two words with the first ending in a vowel: davvero, dappertutto, and even preposition-article combinations - dalla, alle, dello.
7.6.2006 8:06pm
Syd (mail):
"A proper Greek plural would be "Look at those octopedes!" "Octopuses" is also correct. "Octopi" is not."

Of course, "octopedes" is wrong, too, as a plural for "octopus." Octopede or Octoped would be the Latin-derived word for an eight-footed animal, as a centipede is "hundred-footed" and a millipede is "thousand-footed." A spider would be an octopede (as would an octopus)

Why do we think octopuses have feet anyway?
7.6.2006 8:16pm
ys:
What's the plural for octopussy?
7.6.2006 8:36pm
Aukahe:
PersonFromPorlock,

The British Isles were populated with Celtic-speaking people during the Roman era. The later Germanic invasions supplanted the local language with Anglo-Saxon and other dialects. Although there have been many linguistic imports, English retains a Germanic grammar.
Language does change over time with usage and foreign contact. The long term trend in English has been toward loss of inflection and simplification of rules. The trend would lead me to believe octopi and octopodes will eventually be dropped (except by the pesky Latinates).
7.6.2006 8:55pm
Shelby (mail):
PFP and Aukahe:

Perhaps this explains why English, as modified by Germanic influences and a later dose of French, is still ideal for haggling with whores. (Or with soldiers, depending on your perspective.)
7.6.2006 9:11pm
jimbino (mail):
It bugs me that everyone pronounces "gigabyte" with the g of girl instead of the g of gigantic to which gigabyte is related.
7.6.2006 9:13pm
Frank Drackmann (mail):
For what its worth, Infinitives are routinely in German
split without seeming to cause any problems.
7.6.2006 9:41pm
DeezRightWingNutz:
jimbino,

Doc Brown from the Back to the Future trilogy pronounced "gigawatt" with the g of gigantic. Recently, when watching a rerun on TV, I laughed at his "incorrect" pronunciation due to my exposure to the common pronunciations of gigabyte and gigahertz.

Also, why is the last "i" in the Gemini space program pronouced like a long "e", but most people pronounce the Zodiac sign gem-in-eye?
7.6.2006 10:36pm
DeezRightWingNutz:
It also annoyed me that Doc Brown said, "One point twenty-one jigga-watts." I actually commented to my wife that I found it incredible that no one on the set would point out that most scientists would say "one point two one" or "one and twenty-one hundredths gigawatts." Stupid Hollywood libruhls.
7.6.2006 10:42pm
Christopher M (mail):
I don't know why the duplicated "s," but you see the same thing in "ovvere" (= "o vere")

And in "oppure," which is an everyday conversational word in Italian.
7.6.2006 11:56pm
ys:
Frank Drackmann,

For what its worth, Infinitives are routinely in German
split without seeming to cause any problems.


Actually, if you mean splitting of separable prefixes/prepositions in German (and putting them, irritatingly, at the end of the sentence) this is done for various forms of verbs but not infinitive. If, however, you mean the partial equivalent of "to" - "zu" it is not splittable but also used only in certain situations. In English, on the other hand, the particle-indicator is obligatory (except after select modal verbs). It's almost unique this way, except for Romanian, where incidentally the corresponding particle is not splittable.

But I agree that splitting does not cause problems with communication and indeed could add shades of meaning (see e.g., the Wikipedia item on the topic).
7.7.2006 12:05am
Bleepless (mail):
In Fraser's novel, the hero and his pals are about to be thrown into a pool of ravenous, man-eating -- well, you know. One of them yells about octopi. The hero, pedantic to the end, says the correct form is octopods or octopodes. Alas, the twit survives.

Then there is the old joke about the zoo director who could not remember a certain plural, so he wrote, "Please send us a hippopotamus. As long as you are doing it, please send us a second one, too."
7.7.2006 12:47am
Taeyoung (mail):
Doc Brown from the Back to the Future trilogy pronounced "gigawatt" with the g of gigantic. Recently, when watching a rerun on TV, I laughed at his "incorrect" pronunciation due to my exposure to the common pronunciations of gigabyte and gigahertz.

I'm pretty sure it is incorrect. The "giga" of gigabyte comes from the same root as "gigantic," but as a more recent Greco-latinate adoption, it's pronounced as a stop, rather than an affricate. That root is gigas, -gantes, m., meaning a giant. At least, in Latin that's what it is. It's a Greek borrowing, and I don't know how to write (or pronounce) the original Greek.
7.7.2006 7:14am
Richard Bellamy (mail) (www):
Obviously, if Professor Volokh's online OED lists "octopi" as a proper plural, it is a very recent change, as both the Compact OED and my hard copy (purchased in 1999) list it as incorrect.

One wonders the correct method of resolving a dispute such as this one (of which there are probably are better examples) where half of the resources claim that a form is acceptable, and the other half say that it is incorrect.

Does "wrong" require 100% consensus? Assumedly, there was a first source who shifted from "this is wrong" to "this is acceptable." At that moment, did every other dictionary/ usage guide become wrong, under the theory of "How can you say it is wrong, when Respected Dictionary X says it is acceptable?"

That gives too much veto power to the outlier, but the answer would have to lie at somewhere less than 50%, I would think.

I will only partially concede, and say that while my anecdote may have a different balance of the equities now, at the time of the actual incident (being corrected from octopuses to octopi), the weight of authority was different that it is now (with the OED not yet accepting 'octopi'), and 'octopi' was not acceptable.

My greatest fear, in fact, is that my conversation was overhead by an OED editor, who included it as an example in his latest revision, to demonstrate that 'octopi' is correct.

Interesting is the OED's list of new additions (June 15, 2006), which includes some newish words (dotcom, cybrarian, Google), some words that seem odd to add at this late date, because they're probably on their way down (Walter Mittyish), and a goodly number of words that were probably corrected by pedants on June 14 (close-caption, infantilize). And Yada yada.
7.7.2006 11:32am
David Matthews (mail):
Richard Bellamy:

"Compact OED and my hard copy (purchased in 1999) list it as incorrect."

Do they, in fact, list it as "incorrect," or do they simply not list it as an option? There's a significant logical difference between the two.
7.7.2006 11:44am
Eugene Volokh (www):
I'd like to second Mr. Matthews' query. My New Shorter Oxford, which seems to be based on the full dictionary, is a 1993 edition lists "octopi" as a plural of "octopus," and has a separate entry for "octopi" making the same assertion; it says nothing about the term's being incorrect. The online full OED likewise lists "octopi," and, as I said, gives examples from 1834 and 1942. It's possible that the OED people treat the term as incorrect, despite its earlier uses; have only shifted to treating it as correct after 1999; but nonetheless had it listed as correct in the 1993 New Shorter Oxford -- but it seems odd, which is why I'd like to make sure that the sources Mr. Bellamy has do indeed expressly list the term as "incorrect."
7.7.2006 1:41pm
Robert Ayers:
And then there are the antipodes. The New Shorter Oxford lists the singular as "antipode" (no "antipus") with a "back formation" note.
7.7.2006 1:45pm
Seamus (mail):

Use of the passive voice, which should ordinarily be avoided



Was the use of the passive voice in this sentence deliberate?
7.7.2006 3:36pm
Richard Bellamy (mail) (www):
Mr. Matthews and Professor Volokh,

Apparently I have been not making myself clear. The quote above (in Comment #2 to this thread) is a direct quote from the Compact Oxford English Dictionary. The language of my hard copy is identical. It may be fact-checked at the following web page:

http://130.88.203.109/concise_oed/octopus?view=uk

It is not silent at all on the issue of 'octopi', but explicitly states:

" — USAGE The standard plural in English of octopus is octopuses. However, since the word comes from Greek, the Greek plural form octopodes is still occasionally used. The plural form octopi, formed according to rules for Latin plurals, is incorrect."

While I do not have access to the full online OED, I will take Professor Volokh's word (in his update) for what it states, and simply point out that the online Compact OED directly contradicts (is not merely silent compared to) the non-Compact edition.
7.7.2006 3:44pm
Christopher M (mail):
One wonders the correct method of resolving a dispute...where half of the resources claim that a form is acceptable, and the other half say that it is incorrect. Does "wrong" require 100% consensus?

Angels on the head of a pin. There is no cosmic answer to whether a usage is "wrong." If authorities describing current usage disagree, that's a good signal that it will strike a fair number of people within a general audience as an incorrect usage. If that bothers you, don't use it. If it doesn't bother you, use it. Why wouldn't it bother you? Well, maybe because what you care about is (1) being deemed correct by some subset such as "old-fasioned grammar stickers" or (2) being aesthetically pleased with your own style. Nothing wrong with either of those. But beyond that sort of pragmatic choice, I don't know what "resolving [the] dispute" could possibly mean.
7.7.2006 4:04pm
Mark Eckenwiler:
As long as we're waxing peevish, here's my current peeve: people who pronounce the plural of "process" as "process-EEZ."

I'm convinced this arose by false analogy to the plurals of words taken from Greek (basis/bases; analysis/analyses). I couldn't care less (note to self: when you become Ruler of All Earth, do something about people who unironically say "I could care less") whether you say the word as "PROH-sess" or "PRAH-sess," but in the name of all that is holy, don't say process-EEZ. Pleez.
7.7.2006 4:35pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
You said that the use of the passive voice "should ordinarily be avoided," and I realize that this is the conventional wisdom, but my question is why? As far as I know, the two most commonly given reasons are (1) that the active voice makes the writing more forceful (or livelier, or more persuasive), and (2) that use of the active voice usually makes the sentence shorter (and thus clearer).
Both of those are true. But the other reason is (3) the active voice makes it clear who is doing the acting.

Q: "Why didn't you guys do a better job on this project? I gave your team money for it! What happened to it?"
A: "It was wasted."

I guess the classic example, actually, is our 40th president: "Mistakes were made."
7.7.2006 6:25pm
Bleepless (mail):
In Pogo Possum, it was octopiggle,

Hey, gang, in 1L, was it ration-AL or ration-AY-lee? Has Harvard won or not?
7.7.2006 7:49pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
Mr. Bellamy: Thanks very much for the pointer -- indeed, the Compact Oxford does indeed note "octopi" as incorrect, though the OED site itself, and the New Shorter Oxford, list "octopi" as a normal plural, with no such notation. Go figure.
7.7.2006 8:38pm
JohnEMack (mail):
What is finally most important in matters of English usage is meaning. The trouble with any sort of rule against infinitive-splitting is that avoiding it may muck up meaning. Consider (a) "We have agreed to disagree quietly"; (b) "We have agreed to quietly disagree" and (c) "We have quietly agreed to disagree." Each of these sentences means different things. (c) is a quiet agreement -- the disagreement itself could be noisy. (b) is an agreement (it could be a noisy one) that disagreements should be low-key. (a) is ambiguous: Is the agreement or the disagreement supposed to be quiet? One of the reasons why infinitives are so often split is that they tend to lessen this potential ambiguity. While English adverbs, unlike English adjectives, are not regularly placed before the word they modify, placing an adverb nexy to a verb does tend to make it clearer that this particular adverb belongs to this particular verb only. "He ran well and jumped" makes it clear that what he did well was jump, not necessarily run. "He ran and jumped well" suggests (it is slightly ambiguous) that he both ran well and jumped well.

Of course, sometimes ambiguity is useful. Where it is not intended, however, it can be bad diction to deliberately avoid splitting the infinitive.
7.8.2006 11:36am
John Emerson (mail) (www):
7.11.2006 12:21am