Every now and then newsrooms receive edicts banning overused phrases and ungainly words. The use of access and impact as verbs springs to mind – something we were on constant guard against on the Business pages of the Daily Telegraph when I was there a few years ago. Apparently, this is nothing new. The NZ Herald in its 1966 Manual of Journalism exhorted its writers thus: “In recent years, without making them pass any sort of entrance examination, we seem to have admitted dozens of words which usually have little excuse for appearing in a newspaper. Some examples: ‘Few air services operated yesterday because of fog.’ Why not: ‘Fog stopped most air services yesterday.’
It’s not every day you find a joke about split infinitives in the opening sentences of a novel. But Peter O’Donnell provided just that when he transformed Modesty Blaise (think Emma Peel combined with Lara Croft) from a cartoon character into a full-flesh master criminal turned special agent extraordinaire in the opening book of a series.