Oaf of Office

(Old Norse: oaf, silly person)

On Tuesday, January 19, "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,' Roberts had him 'solemnly swear that I will execute the office of president to the United States faithfully.'"

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.

Among these fetishes is the prohibition against "split verbs," in which an adverb comes between an infinitive marker like "to," or an auxiliary like "will," and the main verb of the sentence.

—Excerpts compiled from
"Flubber Hall of Fame; Oaf of Office";
by by Steven Pinker; International Herald Tribune; January 23, 2009; page 6.
Disclaimed knowledge of, responsibility for, or association with.
Abnormally obsessive preoccupations or attachments; fixations.
Someone who botches or bungles.
To adhere to or to conform strictly to some rule.
A person who is regarded as stupid or clumsy.
People who pay undue attention to book learning and formal rules.
Commonplace sayings or ideas.

See more topics of interest at this INDEX of Words at Work in the Media.