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Steven Pinker Explains Why Roberts Mangled the Oath of Office

We're a few days late on this, I know, but Steven Pinker (who happens to be not only one of the most famous pop scientists around, but also the...


We're a few days late on this, I know, but Steven Pinker (who happens to be not only one of the most famous pop scientists around, but also the chairman of the usage panel for the American Heritage Dictionary) has a fascinating explanation for why Chief Justice Roberts flubbed the oath of office. Pinker hypothesizes that Roberts had an irresistible urge to avoid the "split infinitive":Though the ungrammaticality of split verbs is an urban legend, it found its way into The Texas Law Review Manual on Style, which is the arbiter of usage for many law review journals. James Lindgren, a critic of the manual, has found that many lawyers have "internalized the bogus rule so that they actually believe that a split verb should be avoided," adding, "The Invasion of the Body Snatchers has succeeded so well that many can no longer distinguish alien speech from native speech."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.I'm convinced. Anyway, they redid the oath right to make sure it was all official (Hannity thought Obama might not be president).And as someone who never really bought in to the injunction against splitting infinitives, it's nice to finally know that rule is a myth. Another myth: that you can't end sentences in prepositions. Would be pedants (and Chief Justice Roberts), take note.