Thursday, January 22, 2009

Harvard Prof Imitates FrumDoc

FrumDoc, Tuesday, January 20th:
8:49 PM me:what he said was a whoopsie
Doc: no its not it splits a base action with an adverb
Doc: roberts is right
8:50 PM me: but that's the text
Doc: i mean the correct way is "execute faithfully"
not faithfully execute
what do you mean if its wrong its wrong
8:51 PM me: one sec - he says execute the office of the President TO the United States faithfully
both times
Doc: roberts way isnt great but its better than splitting the infinitive!!!! heaven forbid
me: one sec - you think Roberts meant to say execute faithfully?
8:52 PM Doc: that wouldnt split the infinitive
me: but he didn't even say that either time
8:53 PM oh, i see
Doc: so you think just screwed up... no way... he meant to correct the constitutional text
me: lol
8:54 PM but it's weird, he did both, according to the transcript
ROBERTS: ... that I will execute the office of president to the United States faithfully...
OBAMA: ... that I will execute...
ROBERTS: ... faithfully the office of president of the United States...
OBAMA: ... the office of president of the United States faithfully...
8:55 PM Doc: the question then becomes if the constitution is grammatically incorrect how steadfastly are we required to use that text (incorrect)
Today's NY Times: Oaf of Office.

For all the picky English people out there, you can look at this in one of two ways:

  • What you do is really annoying, often silly (correcting the "ain't" in a song?! really?), and can once in a lifetime make you look stupid in front of billions who think the person you're telling it to cannot make a mistake, especially if he tells you "we're going to do it very slowly" the second time; OR
  • You too could be the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.


  1. I'm not sure which is worse, the split infinitive, which is not always wrong, and may be used for emphasis, or the dangling modifier of having "faithfully" which modifies "execute" dangle all the way after "office of the POTUS."

  2. Just to clarify it's not really a split infinitive technically because the verb isn't "to _____" and with regards to the dangling modifier that's why I told Ezzie if he was a real stickler he would have said ".... do solemnly swear to execute faithfully the office....".... but still it was nice to find someone who agreed with me (since everyone else was saying my interpretation was stupid) :-P to you all!!!!!!!!

  3. I didn't say it was stupid, just hilarious. :)

  4. Just to stir the pot, the Constitution was written when different conventions of grammar were in existence. Only an examination of other documents written during that time period would tell us if the writers of the Constitution made a grammatical error. I'd be willing to bet their wording was perfectly fine for the time period. Re the "President to the United States," we have a similar construction in modern English. You can say that you are the mother of six children or you can say that you are the mother to six children; both are grammatically correct. We also speak of an advisor to the President but more rarely of an adviser of the President. In business we talk about an administrative assistant to the company CEO. The use of "to the" has the affect of making the object of the preposition of greater importance than the first noun. Our President's cabinet serves at the pleasure of the President; the President serves at the pleasure of the citizens of the US.

    The whole brouhaha could have been avoided by dividing the oath into short three or four word phrases at a time.

  5. split infinitives are not a problem. that is my linguistic psaq. you can trust me because i spell it with a Q. ;-)

  6. To quote a certain band that is currently in heavy rotation on my iPod: "Who gives a @$%& about an Oxford comma." The instance is different, but the sentiment is the same. That said, I would imagine that nobody here was a big fan of "Eats, Shoots & Leaves."

  7. Noyam - BTW, this is why I didn't go into law. :)

    FFD - BTW, you're on crack.

    ProfK - Yeah, but the to here was clearly a mistake. You can't be an office to something - it's "office of the President" to* the United States? No - has to be of. Plus, the Constitution?! Feh. FFD found them misspelling Pensylvania and writing it's instead of its. Garbage document. :)

    Steg - LOL!

    Apple - I had a feeling a few people would... did you like the choices at the end?

    Xvi - The aforementioned few are. I'm guessing I'd enjoy some of it.

  8. That said, I would imagine that nobody here was a big fan of "Eats, Shoots & Leaves."

    I'm one of the aforementioned few. :)

  9. blah, blah, blah...

    'Yo, Barak - you ready?'


    'You want to be President?'

    'Uh huh'

    'You gonna do a good job?'

    'I'll do my best'

    'Good enough for me - you the President'

    'Thank You'

  10. I LOVE Eats, Shoots and Leaves! I love Lynne Truss and all that she campaigns for!

    Ezzie - I pick option #2, thank you.

    (And I will reiterate: sloppy writing = sloppy thinking.)

  11. No point in saying anything...y'all know my sentiments already.

    (Note the presence of a certain book in my profile pic.)

  12. I bet there's a lot of overlap between people who insist on not splitting infinitives and those who insist on following halacha to the letter, btw. :-)

  13. Erachet, Apple, SJ - That's what we call a few...

    There's a difference between sloppy writing and songs that use "ain't!" (Plus, not sure I agree.)

    JA - I bet there's overlap between people who don't pay close attention to things like titles, links within a post, and their comments on a subject. :P

  14. Damn. I thought you must be referring to him, but I was in a rush. Sorry.