In the title sequence for Star Trek, William Shatner describes the mission of the USS Enterprise and its crew:
“Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.”
Back in 1966, when the now legendary series was born (just over a year after me) one didn’t split infinitives. It wasn’t considered bold to brazenly thrust an adverb into the space between the “to” and the verb. Rules of grammar were taken seriously, and Strunk and White were the arbiters of the day. Of course there was beat poetry and the Beatles and the fast and furious race to space to beat the Russians to the moon. But while we played fast and loose to propel ourselves upwards with rocket fuel, our language remained grounded by the proper rules of grammar.
Why then, did Star Trek’s creators choose to boldly phrase the introduction as they did, instead of adhering safely to the established rules—and was it a wise choice or a foolish one?
Perhaps the more important question is, does anyone really care?
On the positive side, splitting the infinitive emphasized the word “bold,” and hinted—not so subtly—at Gene Roddenberry’s intention to make Star Trek a groundbreaking series. And it was, less because it took the audience into space and into the future, and more because of the topics it covered and the remarkable diversity of its cast. In addition, it foreshadowed the key attribute of Captain Kirk’s character—displayed in every show—his unflagging commitment to human compassion even when it flew in the face of logic.
On the negative, to boldly introduce a blatant grammatical error in the opening title sequence had the potential to delegitimize the show’s desire to be taken seriously as drama and undermine its attempt to present itself as more intellectual than your average tv series—evidenced in Captain Kirk’s liberal quoting of literary luminaries from Eastern philosophers to giants of the Western canon. It is deeply ironic that despite Kirk’s endless supply of erudite expressions, he’s best known for the phrase, “Beam me up, Scotty.”
Looking at Star Trek through the lens of today’s technological and cultural advances, we can bring together these contrasting views—the way matter and anti-matter react with each other to power the Enterprise—and in doing so, begin to understand the show’s genius. Star Trek offered up a future of freedom in which many of the differences that still separate us today—race, religion, gender, sexual orientation—don’t matter, but a future still solidly rooted in and respectful of the past’s collective wisdom.
It is the graceful yet forceful bridging of this gap that enables Star Trek to achieve its mission as a series—to boldly go where no tv show has gone before—or likely ever will again.