As the documentary evidence makes quite clear, Herb Omelette was the first man to split the infinitive. He did it in 1897, two years before his closest rival Yevgeny Potemkin, a professional cigarette filter from Kiev. Potemkin claimed that what mattered wasn’t who split it first but who split it furthest, and vowed to become the first man to split the infinitive across the Atlantic. This dream was sadly dashed in 1920 when he tripped over a dangling participle and fractured his syntax in three places. After months of drug-induced hallucinations where he spelled colour with a z and mistook a pathetic fallacy for a bowl of cottage cheese, he fell into a comma from which he never recovered.
Deprived of his greatest adversary Herb Omelette vowed never to split an infinitive again, retiring from public life to a cottage in the Swiss Alps. There he composed brilliant, innovative monographs on the use of apostrophes in shop signs and alternative meanings of the word literal before being shot dead by pedants at the age of 62.
The infinitive would not be split again until 1933, when the Welsh soprano Fluorescence deVere and her goddaughter Beulah Nitrate accidentally used a strip of radioactive material to mark a page in their copy of the Oxford English Dictionary. When they next opened it up, they found the letters G through K had gone missing and that the first recorded use of the word Lavatory was attributed to Chaucer. Realising that she was on the verge of a once-in-a-lifetime discovery, Fluorescence committed suicide so as not to run the risk of discovering it again.
Beulah, devoting herself to her godmother’s memory, painstakingly transcribed their findings onto a roll of tissue paper. The University of Hamburg was interested in her research, but said her working was too flimsy and demanded that the results be embroidered into a silk handkerchief instead. The next two years saw Beulah embarking on a frantic race to complete her needlepoint before the results could be stolen, culminating in a vigorous defence of her thesis in front of a distinguished academic panel. The handkerchief stood up to the violent sneezing displayed by all four of the examiners, and came through with flying colours (mostly green and brown).
By this time, with the situation in Europe deterioriating, senior officials in Washington began to realise the potential military significance of splitting the infinitive. In the right hands, they believed, whole cities could be moved from one end of a sentence to another, and any potential war shortened by as much as three syllables. Their hopes were confirmed when a Jewish physicist escaped from Germany with the handkerchief sewn into the lining of his own handkerchief, thus making it virtually impossible to detect or indeed use. Once unstitched by the Presidential Seamstress, the greatest technical minds in the country were invited to examine the now rather soiled item and gravely agreed that it was no longer to be sneezed at.
After early tests on splitting the conditional and subjunctive proved promising, tremendous sums of money were channeled by the administration into the research laboratory at Los Alamos where the power of the infinitive could be harnessed. In an open letter to President Roosevelt dated March 12th 1942, Nobel laureate Albert Einstein advised that any further research would be in violation of the Geneva Convention, which expressly outlaws the use of non-conventional grammar against a civilian population. The White House claimed never to have received the letter, and the New York Times later revealed it had been addressed to the wrong President Roosevelt. Anonymous sources close to the President laughed the incident off, saying that in any case it had been written by the wrong Professor Einstein. Of the four parties involved, none came forward to comment.
With their most vocal critic now silenced, the team at Los Alamos sped ahead with their research, and by 1944 had succeeded in splitting the verb ‘to go’ halfway across a football field. Six months later, they would have split it across the state of New Mexico, generating enough energy to power a small hamster wheel for twenty minutes. Fortunately the war came to a close before the infinitive could be properly weaponised, and President Truman ordered research to cease before hamsters the world over went on strike.
Infinitive research was restarted in secret during the Cold War, after intelligence reports indicated that the Russians were already in possession of several fissile gerunds. Although reports from this period have yet to be declassified, tensions between the two sides are believed to have reached fever pitch when CIA agents were ordered to infilitrate Fidel Castro’s palace and split the verb ‘to be elected’ in Spanish outside the President’s bedroom. The mission backfired when one of the agents instead split the verb ‘to have tuberculosis’ in French and was blown sideways through a bay window. The incident was covered up discreetly when Kennedy agreed to pull his dictionaries out of Turkey.
With the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the great powers vowed to limit the spread of infinitive weapons by agreeing to a Verbal Non-Proliferation Treaty, which critics warned was not worth the paper it was written on. It was consequently reprinted in beluga caviar on gold lame and took pride of place in the foyer of the United Nations in Geneva until it was mistaken for an appetiser by Boris Yeltsin.
Even when assurances are given that the technology is to be used for purely peaceful aims, however, sporadic infringements do nothing to allay the prevailing climate of global suspicion. A notorious case was the discovery of three centrifuges on board a Turkish merchant ship that were powered by I ran, which as the past indicative of the verb to run is strictly banned for civilian use. With similar incidents taking place more recently involving Togo and the Holy See, it is only through international collaboration that the tense situation can ever be resolved.