We’re Going to Really Split This Infinitive

Recorded on February 24th, 2016

I have a complaint. It’s very hard to document or point to examples of, because the construction of it is so close to legitimate language that it would be like Googling the word “the”. My complaint is people who stick the word “really” between “to” and an essentially unmodifiable verb:

  • “We’re going to really see where we go with this.”
  • “We’ll try to really define the problem.”
  • “I encourage you to really talk to your manager.”

Sometimes they leave the “to” out and just slip the “really” in there for fun:

  • “We’re really talking about what ‘design’ means.”
  • “She really built the first sustainable business in that space.” (Ugh, sorry. I’m just making shit up now.)

I could find better, dumber examples if I tried harder. Or, if I wanted to sound more important, I could try to really find better, dumber examples, because I want you to really read what I’m really writing here.

See where it breaks down? It’s a crutch word, in a crutch-like formation when you’re afraid to stop talking. It sounds awful. It’d be far better to fill that space with “uh” or “um”.

I have no allegiance to un-split infinitives, either. “To boldly go”, “To go boldly”, whatever. If putting an adverb in the middle is wrong – and there’s still debate on that – I say it’s fine as long as it helps the next word. It’s adding “really” in an attempt to make your boring verb sound innovative, noble, or novel that irritates me. It doesn’t do anything. You either listen or you don’t. You either see, define, or build, or you don’t.

This is the new “leverage” or “move the needle”, but it’s worse. Because it’s less obvious, it can infect any unsuspecting, innocent verb, robbing it of any shred of power. It’s inevitably followed by a raft of additional instances of “really”. Listen for them and they’ll be there. Once people start with it, they can’t stop themselves.

You know what to do: Banish the phrase from your language.

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