With all eyes upon him, this week Barack Obama faced a dilemma we've all encountered at one time or another.....someone next to you makes a verbal slip-up. Do you jump in to correct the mistake or do you ignore it and move on?
Say, for instance, your not-so-fashion-savvy neighbor pronounces Versace with a long "a" and a soft "c," (rhyming it with "lace") Do you say nothing and let Gianni roll over in his grave, or do you unleash a correction that would make Donatella proud?
The nicest way to handle this sort of scenario is to educate your neighbor without appearing to have done so. A subtle correction can easily be accomplished by repeating the word or name properly later in the conversation. This is a particularly thoughtful method when the malaprop has been made in front of other people and there is potential that the person who misspoke will feel embarrassed.
But what do you do when the precision of your words has potential legal consequences and you're uttering those words in front of a television audience of nearly 40 million? Here's what I'd counsel: You ignore "repeat after me" and take the oath as you know it has been written. As it happened, Obama apparently second-guessed his own instinct that Chief Justice John Roberts had erred, and after hesitating, the president-elect ultimately repeated the words in the same incorrect sequence as Roberts first read them: "....that I will execute the Office of President of the United States faithfully..." instead of "I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States..."
I have faith that no manners lapse occured here. But just to ensure there were no hard feelings (or constitutional issues), the two men met up again the following day and Roberts administered the oath for a second time. This time, everyone had faith that they would execute the one-sentence paragraph correctly. And sure enough, both men did.
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