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Obama's split lip gives him 'superfluous' trouble at Kennedy honors

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Obama tongue-tied on 'superfluous'
  • President's struggle drew chuckles at White House event
  • "You try it when you've had 12 stitches," Obama says
  • Honorees for Kennedy Center awards range from Merle Haggard to Oprah Winfrey

Washington (CNN) -- Superfluous (su-PER-flu-us): Adjective. Unnecessary or needless; difficult to pronounce for a president with a split lip.

President Barack Obama grappled with the word Sunday evening at a White House event for this year's Kennedy Center honorees as he read from an opinion by legendary Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes.

"It's this lip. It's hard to say," Obama said to chuckles from the audience. "You try it when you've had 12 stitches."

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Obama got a dozen stitches in his lip after being elbowed during a pickup basketball game the day after Thanksgiving. He received applause from the crowd when he finally managed to pronounce the word, included in a 1926 dissent from Holmes in defense of the arts.

"To many people, the superfluous is necessary," Holmes wrote. "The theater is necessary. Dance is necessary. Song is necessary. The arts are necessary. They are a necessary part of our lives."

To that, Obama added, "The men and women here tonight embody that idea. Tonight it is my honor to offer them the appreciation of a grateful nation."

Inside the 2010 Kennedy Center Honors
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This year's Kennedy Center honorees include country-and-western singer-songwriter Merle Haggard; ex-Beatle Paul McCartney; veteran Broadway composer Jerry Herman; dancer and choreographer Bill T. Jones; and television host and actress Oprah Winfrey, a fellow Chicagoan and an early Obama supporter.

At a reception in the East Room of the White House prior to the awards ceremony, the president applauded this year's honorees.

"Each of these honorees help us understand the human experience -- to illuminate our past, to help us understand our present, and to give us the courage to face our future," said Obama.

While the president spoke of each honoree's accomplishments he used a single sentence to sum up his take on the reigning queen of daytime talk,

"Michelle and I love Oprah," he said.

Winfrey, a woman accustomed to celebrating others' accomplishments, was visibly moved by Sunday's recognition.

"It feels like you on your very best day," she told CNN. "It feels like when every single thing in your life comes together in one moment to say, 'Wow. That actually happened for me.'"

Winfrey also smiled when asked about the president's praise for her earlier in the evening. "He said he loved me," she said. "He said he loved me."

Among the president's guests were actress Julia Roberts, Winfrey's friend Gayle King, actors Alec Baldwin and Sidney Poitier and singer and former Kennedy Center honoree Diana Ross.

CNN's Padmananda Rama and Lauren Pratapas contributed to this report.