New Yorker copy editors (probably) moving adverbs around

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In an article called "The increasingly lonely hope of Barack Obama," the The New Yorker showed that it belongs to the increasingly lonely class of educated people who still imagine that if they ever allowed an adjunct to separate infinitival to from the plain-form verb of the infinitival complement that it introduces, demons would break through the walls and floor and drag them down to hell. The article, by Vinson Cunningham, contained this passage:

The President thanked his Vice-President, Joe Biden, and the rest of the people who had made possible his time in office. And here, too, was a contrast with Trump, who has yet to demonstrate an ability ardently and earnestly to praise a person other than himself.

To demonstrate an ability ardently and earnestly? Vinson, are you quite sure you didn't mean that what Trump hasn't yet demonstrated is that he can ardently and earnestly praise a person other than himself?

I'll bet you did. In which case ardently and earnestly should have nestled up to the left hand side of the verb praise. The word order as it appeared in the magazine suggests a totally wrong meaning.

But you probably aren't the guilty party here. I think you have probably been shafted by a copy editor. Let me mentor you, Vinson.

You're a relatively young African American writer, a former staff assistant in the White House under Obama, hired by The New Yorker only last year. And you've published in the Magazine and the Book Review of the New York Times, and in Vulture, The Awl, the FADER, McSweeney's — these are cool and trendy places to publish. You're hotter than a two dollar pistol. You know where to put the modifying bits and pieces in a sentence. Don't let the old fuddy-duddies at The New Yorker push you around!

If you need a modifying adjunct like ardently and earnestly to be immediately adjacent to a certain verb (like praise or any other), you damn well have a right to have your modifier where you want it, and not shifted off to the left like a car that couldn't get in the main parking area but had to be shunted off to a vacant lot down the street.

An ability to ardently and earnestly praise is not ungrammatical. Putting adverbs after infinitival to has never been ungrammatical in English. All the finest writers do that sort of thing ("splitting the infinitive," as it is wrongly called) whenever they damn well please.

You're the writer; the copy editor isn't! Don't be bullied, or tampered with. Walk to the desk of the offending editor, pound on it with your clenched fist hard enough to make a coffee cup bounce, and say something like this (though of course the exact choice of words would be a matter for your discretion): "Listen" (and you can insert an abusive epithet here): "You can either keep my goddamn adverbs where I damn well put them or you can kiss my ass! Which is it gonna be?" Something roughly along those lines. Diplomatic, but forceful.

I'm telling you this because I hate to see an interesting article messed around with by a pusillanimous copy editor who thinks incorrectly that there is something wrong with placing a modifying constituent between infinitival to and the following verb. There isn't. Trust me, I'm not from the government, I'm from Language Log and I'm here to help.

[Tip of the hat: thanks to David Evans for pointing out the example.]

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