Faithfully Execute Faithfully the Office of President of the United States Faithfully
Posted by Neal on January 20, 2009
“I, Barack Hussein Obama –“
Obama repeated: “I, Barack –“
Whoops! Justice Roberts wasn’t done yet! He went on: “–do solemnly swear…”
Obama took it from the top: “I, Barack Hussein Obama do solemnly swear…
Ten minutes earlier, I had heard a slightly too-long pause between Justice Stevens’s intonation of part of the vice-presidential oath of office and Joe Biden’s repeating of it, and I could almost see Biden thinking, “Is it my turn now? OK, he’s waiting, so it must be my turn.” Now, during the shorter presidential oath, Obama stumbled in the opposite direction. Of course, it was a stumble on the part of Roberts, too, since he could have waited for Obama to finish saying his name, and then go on with do solemnly swear.
The oath went on. I didn’t catch it precisely, and we were watching on a TV without DVR, so I couldn’t rewind, but when it got to the part about faithfully executing the office of President of the United States, there was some more stopping, starting, and backtracking. The wording in the Constitution is:
I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States
This is a natural placement of the adverb, between the modal will and the rest of the verb phrase. Roberts phrased it like this:
I will execute faithfully the office of President of the United States
This is also grammatical, but a little bit stilted. I wondered if Roberts was a victim of the “no split infinitives” rule gone wild, the pseudo-rule that causes people to rearrange adverbs when there’s not an infinitive in sight. Or it may be that he just forgot to say faithfully earlier, and was squeezing it in at the last exit before he went into the long noun phrase the Office of President of the United States. The phrasing Obama ultimately took was to go ahead and say the heavy noun phrase and put the adverb at the end:
I will execute the office of President of the United States faithfully
That works, too, but the Constitution’s wording is the best. I hear the commentators now observing that Roberts “messed it up” regarding the oath of office. What do you think? Does variation in adverb placement count as messing it up if you’re saying an oath of office?
I also noticed at the end that Roberts said, “So help you God” and Obama dutifully changed the you to me. Now I can’t remember what the usual way of doing this is. Does someone out there more used to hearing (or administering) oaths than I am know if the administrator says so help you God or so help me God?
And on Obama’s subsequent speech: Way to go! I, too, reject as false the claim that we have to choose between our nation’s security and its ideals. And even if it were true, choosing security is the wrong choice.