ADVERB REVERB

Faithfully. The most powerful adverb in the free world?

Rarely does a part of speech become headline news, but on Jan. 20, 2009, an adverb became a historic footnote in the inauguration of our 44st president, Barack Obama. Here is the wording of the oath of office, as prescribed by the Constitution in Article 2, Section 1, Clause 8:

‘I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.’”

First, President Obama stepped on Chief Justice John Roberts’ line. Then the Chief Justice misplaced the adverb in the official oath. Then there was a flub, a pause, a course correction, and …

Here’s the transcript sourced from UPI.

ROBERTS: Are you prepared to take the oath, Senator?
OBAMA: I am.
ROBERTS: I, Barack Hussein Obama…
OBAMA: I, Barack…
ROBERTS: … do solemnly swear…
OBAMA: I, Barack Hussein Obama, do solemnly swear…
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…
ROBERTS: … and will to the best of my ability…
OBAMA: … and will to the best of my ability…
ROBERTS: … preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.
OBAMA: … preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.
ROBERTS: So help you God?
OBAMA: … So help me God.

Many pundits have searched for a reason for the constitutional cha-cha. Was it subconscious? (Sen. Obama voted against Roberts’ confirmation as Chief Justice in 2005.) Maybe. But I much prefer Stephen Pinker’s opinion on “split-infinitive brainwashing” as written here.

January 27 2009 12:19 pm | parts of speech