Wednesday, February 11, 2009

From a few weeks ago: a neat op-ed by linguist Steven Pinker on the oath of office mix-up.

How could a famous stickler for grammar have bungled that 35-word passage, among the best-known words in the Constitution? Conspiracy theorists and connoisseurs of Freudian slips have surmised that it was unconscious retaliation for Senator Obama’s vote against the chief justice’s confirmation in 2005. But a simpler explanation is that the wayward adverb in the passage is blowback from Chief Justice Roberts’s habit of grammatical niggling. ...

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.
The essay is headlined "Oaf of Office," so I was hoping it'd hew a bit more closely to my own read on the situation (that Roberts simply forgot his lines, and scrambled) than it actually did. But it's an interesting read all the same.

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