Could Chief Justice John Roberts have flubbed the inaugural oath last week because he’s a stickler for grammar? Steven Pinker thinks so.
In an op-ed in the New York Times, “Oaf of Office,” Pinker theorizes that it was Roberts’s zest for grammatical perfection that led him to ask Barack Obama to “solemnly swear that I will execute the office of president to the United States faithfully” instead of “solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of president of the United States.”
The culprit, according to Pinker, was that old bugaboo: the split verb.
In his legal opinions, Chief Justice Roberts has altered quotations to conform to his notions of grammaticality, as when he excised the “ain’t” from Bob Dylan’s line “When you ain’t got nothing, you got nothing to lose.” On Tuesday his inner copy editor overrode any instincts toward strict constructionism and unilaterally amended the Constitution by moving the adverb “faithfully” away from the verb.
It’s an interesting—if utterly fanciful—theory (unless Pinker has some kind of mind-reading abilities that we don’t all know about). In any case, readers, to split verbs or not to split verbs? That is today’s question.
Hat tip to Editrix.