In a New York Times piece, Steven Pinker -- who is chairman of The American Heritage Dictionary's usage panel -- discussed Chief Justice John Roberts' flub of the oath of office at Obama's inauguration. Pinker says it is a product of Roberts' adherence to one of those grammar rules that aren't: that's you can't split infinitives. The Constitution calls for this wording in the oath: "That I will faithfully execute the office of president of the United States." But Roberts said: "That I will execute the office of president to the United States faithfully."
Pinker says the explanation of the error "is that the wayward adverb in the passage is blowback from Chief Justice Roberts’s habit of grammatical niggling." The false rule that Roberts is following here 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."
Pinker explains that many lawyers have this problem because of a faulty style guide:
- 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."