President Obama and Chief Justice Roberts chose a do-over for the bungled oath of office. The Chief Justice donned his black robe to go to the Oval Office, and--slowly--they repeated the oath, getting it right this time.
Now, to a lot of people this wasn't a serious offense. But we word hoes know all about it, don't we? If you say "execute the office faithfully" that's quite a different thing from "execute faithfully the office". What about "faithfully execute"? This is the sort of thing that can halt a writer in her tracks for an hour while she figures out which sounds better, to say nothing of which is more grammatical.
Grammar is a fluid thing, as we know. Churchill's jibe about "This is something up with which I will not put" was the last word on split infinitives. Maybe the split verb will follow?
Steven Pinker sits on the editorial board of The American Heritage Dictionary. He wrote this in The New York Times:
On Tuesday, Chief Justice John Roberts joined the Flubber Hall of Fame when he administered the presidential oath of office apparently without notes. Instead of having Barack Obama “solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of president of the United States,” Chief Justice Roberts had him “solemnly swear that I will execute the office of president to the United States faithfully.” When Mr. Obama paused after “execute,” the chief justice prompted him to continue with “faithfully the office of president of the United States.” . . .
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.
Language pedants hew to an oral tradition of shibboleths that have no basis in logic or style, that have been defied by great writers for centuries, and that have been disavowed by every thoughtful usage manual. Nonetheless, they refuse to go away, perpetuated by the Gotcha! Gang and meekly obeyed by insecure writers. . . .
Well, sure we're insecure! Editors and copyeditors and grammar teachers terrify us. Who was that writer who said, "I have spent the whole morning putting in a comma, and the whole afternoon taking it out?" That could have been me.