January 28th, 2009
Execute ... faithfully vs. faithfully execute / cursive writing / specs
by Barbara Wallraff
Jody Spear, of Harborside, Maine, writes: “I expect you’re hearing from readers with questions about the position of adverbs, as publicized by Chief Justice John Roberts’s administration of the presidential oath to Barack Obama. The chief justice misquoted the official text, but otherwise his phrasing -- ‘execute the office ... faithfully,’ rather than ‘faithfully execute’ -- is defensible, no?”
Dear Jody: Let’s consider the whole phrase. Roberts prompted Obama to say, “I will execute the office of President to the United States faithfully,” whereas the oath specified in the Constitution is “I will faithfully execute the office of President to the United States.”
Andrea Lubershane Gardner, of Evanston, Ill., writes: “I recently helped a friend’s 10-year-old do her homework because their DSL wasn’t working and she was using my computer. I was shocked to see her writing in block letters. She said her older sister, a freshman in high school, doesn’t use cursive either. I researched this and found a huge controversy there, about which I’ve heard nothing in general conversation. Will kids be able to read the Declaration of Independence?”
Dear Andrea: Right you are that writing in cursive, or longhand, is on the wane. Many kids already have trouble reading it, and of the 1.5 million students who wrote essays as part of the SAT in 2006, just 15 percent wrote them in cursive.
Christopher Beck, of Detroit, writes: “When abbreviating the word ‘specifications,’ I know that ‘spec.s’ doesn’t look right, but do you use ‘specs.’ or just forget the period altogether?”
Dear Christopher: When you abbreviate “advertisement,” “gymnasium” or “mathematics,” I’m sure you don’t write “ad.” or “gym.” or “math.” The same applies to “specs,” and never mind that it’s plural.
© Copyright 2003 by Barbara Wallraff. Reprints require prior permission. All rights reserved.