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Not Much is Really Sacred

From Steven Pinker’s op-ed in Thursday’s NY Times:

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.

So Roberts’s mangling of the oath might not have been a “flub” after all: he might have been, consciously or unconsciously, trying to “correct” the words in the constitution.

I knew we couldn’t trust that guy — two documents that you really shouldn’t mess with lightly are the United States Constitution and the collected lyrics of Bob Dylan.