From the Los Angeles Times Sports section, Tuesday, July 24, 2007:  Vick told to not go to camp.

Bad grammar, because in truth he was told not to go, which is correct English.  Putting the not before go split the infinitive, to go.  And worse, it’s not even the correct meaning, though to most ears it makes perfect sense.

I supposed the copper-outters at the Oxford English Dictionary, who basically end up approving of anything that people do everyday, no matter how much it’s based in ignorance and laziness, would approve of this usage, but it jars my ears.

Sorry, folks, but you’re told not to do something, not to not do something.

3 thoughts on “What’s Wrong With This Headline?

  1. OED records usage, nothing else. Thus the role of a dictionary. That aside–the “rule” of not splitting the infinitive comes from 19th century hypercorrection of English because the infinitive in Latin cannot be split. Latin infinitives are formed with a single word (two words in English). So, the copper-outers (interesting word that) are allowing English speakers to speak English, while you are denying English speakers to speak Latin. So be it. I will no longer speak Latin.

    That’s what I love about grammar hypercorrectionists: “though to most ears it makes perfect sense,” is discounted because Julius Caesar wouldn’t have said it.

    “to not go” is not laziness. It is clarity.

  2. Sorry, but I respectfully disagree. First, the “split infinitive” rule is not really a “rule” at all, and never was. It is not incorrect to split infinitives, and has been.

    But more to the point, is it really correct to say that in English, we are told “NOT to do x” rather than ” to NOT do x”?

    Some examples:

    Mom told me not to eat any more candy.
    Mom told me to not eat any more candy.

    The prisoners were warned not to touch the fence.
    The prisoners were warned to not touch the fence.

    Is there really any difference between the two sentences in meaning or semantic impact? In fact, in some ways, one could argue that the “to NOT do x” example has more immediacy because it more closely mimics what an actual speaker would say (“Do not touch the fence!”).

    Rather than being a matter of correct vs. incorrect, is this not really an issue of usage, and therefore, in the final analysis, a matter of opinion?

    At any rate, one should form an opinion about these matters without regard to the non-issue of the split infinitive, which is not now, and never has been, a matter of importance in English usage.

  3. To not disagree (not tell me that says the same thing as “not to disagree”), these two comments track how abuse becomes accepted use through time.

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