Mr. Byers: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his welcome. As far as fuel is concerned, we know that the Conservative Government sought to dramatically increase the rate of VAT.The common factor of all these imagined corrections is that they serve no function in clarification - it's perfectly obvious what was meant - and concern "zombie rules" on the split infinitive, plural "none", and less vs. fewer. It's not even party-based disruption: Bercow does it to members of his own party. Hattersley describes it as language used as a "positional good": nitpicking shibboleths to demonstrate elevated status and condition, rather than communication.
Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): Do not split infinitives.
- 21st January 1999
Mr. Bercow: ... Paragraph 34 states:
It is not considered that it would be necessary to formally monitor the effectiveness of the regulation.
I shall not dwell on the split infinitive, but I point out that that observation is complacent and irresponsible.
- 18th December 2000
Mr. Fabricant: ... Before the hon. Gentleman intervenes on me again to say that there are but seven colours in the spectrum and that none of them are black—
Mr. Bercow: Is.
Mr. Fabricant: None of them are black. At least I have not split an infinitive—which I often do in speech, although not in writing—because I know that my hon. Friend would correct me for doing so.
- Standing Committee A, Tuesday 16 January 2001
Phil Hope: As a result, less children are truanting—
Mr. Bercow: Fewer!
Phil Hope: I accept the hon. Gentleman's grammatical correction and thank him very much for it. It is the only thing that he has got right all afternoon.
- 12 Feb 2003
A most ironic aspect to this is that Bercow does have a genuine interest in language for the purpose of communication, as head of the Bercow Review of Speech, Language and Communication Needs (SLCN) services compiled in 2007.
John is the Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Speech and Language Difficulties and has vigorously pursued special educational needs matters in parliamentary speeches and questions. John is Vice-President of AFASIC, a charity which promotes understanding, acceptance, equal opportunities and the inclusion into society of children and young adults with speech and language impairments.All this is presumably underpinned by current best practice in linguistics, so it's a pity to see someone in such a major role in a language-based project subscribing to the most trite of saloon-bar grammar peeves.
It would be unfair to single out John Bercow as sole offender. A search of Hansard for phrases such as "split infinitive" finds many more examples, such as the House of Lords discussion of the Crime (International Co-operation) Bill in 2003, where David Cairns (Greenock and Inverclyde) waits through a whole concluding speech to tell Mr Hawkins that he split an infinitive in "I want to genuinely thank the new Minister". Or Ann Winterton, regarding an MOD statement on Counter-Insurgency (Iraq/Afghanistan): "In spite of the two split infinitives, I heartily support that statement". Or Lord Renton on 19 Jan 1995: "I regret to say that I cannot support my noble friend's amendment, not only because it contains a rather long split infinitive, with the insertion of no fewer than seven words...".
The general pompous verbosity of parliamentary discourse is depressing at the best of times, but this is especially timewasting. As with online grammar flaming, probably the best response is not to rise to it, but it's refreshing to see some plain old sense from David Heath (Somerton and Frome):
Mr. Clarke: Following the very logical arguments that the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome is putting to the House, I wonder whether he would agree that my constituents in Coatbridge and Chryston would find it very unusual if their Member gave support to an amendment that includes a split infinitive: "to properly control". Given the excellent Scottish education system, they would have some reservations about that as well, would they not?- Ray
Mr. Heath: I am most grateful to the right hon. Member for Coatbridge and Chryston, who has clearly had the benefit of an excellent Scottish education. I shall not go too far down the road of parsing the clause in question, but I have a difference with the right hon. Gentleman about the appropriateness or otherwise of the split infinitive. The split infinitive was commonly used in the authorised version of the Bible, and historically. It is only a Victorian invention that equated the English infinitive with the Latin infinitive, which of course could not be split because it was incorporated in a single word.
- Hansard, Private Hire Vehicles (Carriage of Guide Dogs etc.), 19 Jul 2002