Obama, Roberts, and adverbial placement

Mike Dunford has a post about how some (ok, Fox News) are already stating the Obama isn't really president because of the flub in today's oath of office during the inauguration ceremonies - never mind that the former Senator actually became president at noon, about ten minutes before the actual oath (although Orin Kerr has an informative post on who was president from 12:00 to 12:10 as prompted by Howard Wasserman.).

I'm loving Twitter right now because Carl Zimmer brought my attention to a fantastic post earlier this afternoon by his brother, linguistics expert Benjamin Zimmer:

Early reports differ in saying who stumbled: NBC and ABC say the flub was Roberts', while the AP says it was Obama's. I think both men were a bit nervous, and the error that emerged from their momentary disfluency came down to a problem of adverbial placement.

Zimmer also quotes Jan Crawford Greenberg at ABC who noted the historical precedent for boofing the oath when Chief Justice William Howard Taft, the former president himself, substituted a word when swearing in Herbert Hoover in 1929.

Er, 1929. Not good.

I'm far from a lingustics expert but I'm proud that I also caught Roberts' other flub of "president to the United States."

More like this

The again "President to the United States" is a vast improvement on the previous "President in spite of the United States"

How long will it be before a lawsuit is filed claiming he can't assume the role of President due to this mistake? It will be just as petty as the lawsuit(s) claiming he lacked lifelong US citizenship. I'm not even an ardent Obama supporter (sorry, the euphoria makes me wary), and I consider these attempts to be stupid. Obama is the US President. Deal with it.

I could be wrong, but I heard once that the Oath of Office is actually done officially in private before the public one. The same goes for Senator's and Representative's oaths as well.

By Elastic Planet (not verified) on 20 Jan 2009 #permalink

Actually, the funny part for me was my read into it, i.e. Roberts had it wrong (since the text of the Oath of Office is specified in the Constitution), and I took Obama's hesitation as him knowing it was wrong (since he was a Constitutional law professor - heck, *I* know the text of the Oath of Office without having to look it up), but not quite knowing what to do about it.

There's some irony in the Cheif Justice screwing up something specified in the Constitution, but I found the moment both funny and poignant. Who wouldn't be flustered with literally the eyes of the world on you? It made the whole thing more real.

It sounded (to me) as if Roberts dropped the ball, and that caught Obama by surprise. But I can't really fault either man. If *I* were on that podium I'd be nervous too!