Saturday, January 24, 2009

The hoopla around the goofed Oath

Thursday, on the plane back from D.C. I was reading an article in the New York Times that explained why Roberts made the mistake he made while reciting the Oath of Office to Obama. Here is the article.

The reasoning makes sense if you speak another language. Apparently, Roberts is a stickler for grammar. He had memorized the oath of office but when he went to recite it to Obama, his mind wanted to correct the grammar of the oath. Here is the gist of the article:

In English, our future tense is expressed with two words. I "will go" to the store. In other languages, like French (and possibly Latin), future tense is expressed as one word. It is from the way the verb ends that one is able to determine if it is future tense or not. So, one is obligated to place the adverb after the verb. And that is what Roberts did. Habitually, he rearranged the sentence to place the adverb (faithfully) from it's original place of "I will faithfully execute" to "I will execute ........ faithfully". Apparently, Obama, too is a stickler for grammar and understood Roberts' mistake and even sort of smiled at it.

This article made sense to me but then I realized that past tense, at least in French is expressed in two words. It is a combination of the possessive verb (to have) or "to be" and the actual verb itself. For example the French would say instead of ate, "have ate". It's always 2 words. And, interestingly, the French place the adverb between the two. Deja vu is a very good example of that. It is formally J'ai deja vu. Which means "I have already saw". We use it in it's short form deja vu.

So, then, I wonder, if there is no "grammatical" error here. It would seem that when language allows the verb to be expressed with two words, it is acceptable to place an adverb between the two. I wonder what Roberts stand is on that rule for past tense verbs. The French are far greater sticklers about their language than we are and I can assure you if any word is misplaced in a sentence, the whole world would know about it.

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