Clare Short’s infinitive does the splits, and other marvels
Commenting on Gordon Broon's promise to retain Our British Bomb, Clare Short became so apoplectic that she contrived to split her infinitive by inserting no fewer than 13 words into it (is this a record?):
Ms Short told Radio 4's The World at One: "To just, in a Mansion House speech that's meant to be about the economy, throw it away and say 'this is what we are going to do' – I can't support that kind of leader, absolutely not.
A few days earlier, Neal Lawson, Chair of Compass, opening a Robin Cook Memorial Meeting in Central Hall Westminster, recalled some celebrities who had used the same hall in the past:
When the suffragettes, Gandhi and Atlee [sic], met in this great hall in their times, I’m sure they were daunted too. But it didn’t stop them.
It certainly took a lot to daunt those sufragettes.
While we're on the subject of Clem Attlee, this memorable limerick about him is supposed to have been written by Attlee himself:
Few thought he was even a starter.
There were many who thought themselves smarter.
But he ended PM,
CH and OM,
An earl and a Knight of the Garter.
He also of course 'ended' as one of Britain's greatest prime ministers and Labour Party leaders of the 20th century.
I wonder if Mr Blair can produce an equally crisp limerick about himself.
(Please don't start another great Commentfest about how pedantic it is to automatically condemn a split infinitive even when to awkwardly avoid it is to obviously make the end product uglier. I ought to damn well know that by now — and I do, I do.)
Whatever our views on split infinitives (and I'm not even sure they exist – that's all I'll say), shouldn't the standards we apply when judging how people speak, particularly in "World at One" interviews, be different from those we apply when judging how people write? Most of us would be in for some surprises if we had our utterances recorded and dissected.
Yes, the limerick shows that Clem did indeed have much to be modest about. Now, perhaps, for a Blair Limerickfest.
Brian adds: Yes, I agree that it's right to be more lenient in judging spoken than written English. But this particular split infinitive was such a whopper — thirteen words! — that I couldn't resist a modest tribute to it.
This is not the place for yet more fevered debate about the rights and wrongs of split infinitives, thanks. But a Blair Limerickfest will be welcome:
A young politician called Blair
Was distraught to be losing his hair
He said, "Look, I'm appalled!
I shall soon be quite bald —
It just shows that the system's unfair."
Not brilliant, but it's a start. More, please.
On Newsnight a couple of nights ago they quoted some remarks by a youthful, and presumably still reasonably honest, Gordon Brown to the effect that the nuclear deterrent is economically ridiculously expensive, militarily useless and something else I'm afraid I don't seem to remember.
Could you possibly verify this? [Why me? — BLB]
If Newsnight reported him accurately one can't help wondering why Mr Brown seems to have changed his mind.
Tony rhymes with phony and baloney, as I'm sure everyone has already noticed.
Brian writes: And Blair rhymes with 'hot air' — and about a million other English words….
A pity no-one has taken up the challenge posed by the prospect of a Blair Limerickfest. Here's my go:
Please don't disclose this letter
(Mrs B, I don't want to upset her).
But that Tony Blair
Is beginning to wear.
After him things can only get better.
I suppose you could say this had the makings of a new poetic form, the Blimerick. But you could also adapt that neglected form the Clerihew to produce a Blairihew, as in:
Of power Blair
Has had his share.
If he has any more
He'll become a bore
Brian applauds: An excellent double whammy for starters. Come on, chaps, follow that! A Haiku would be welcome, too: "an unrhymed verse form of Japanese origin having three lines containing usually 5, 7, and 5 syllables respectively; also : a poem in this form usually having a seasonal reference" – Merriam-Webster. Better these (not too difficult!):
Ageing Tony Blair
Moves slowly towards winter*
Not wanting to go
*[Note seasonal reference]
Tony Blair told his wife with a frown
That it wasn't yet time to stand down
But by 2009
It would surely be fine
To hand over to Chancellor Brown.
Thought it very unfair:
He was increasingly afraid
He wouldn't complete his decade.