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May 3, 2011

It Isn’t Just Fox
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 11:24 PM * 65 comments

CNN, on its front page, right now, is displaying “Obama” where they clearly meant “Osama.”

Comments on It Isn't Just Fox:
#1 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2011, 11:30 PM:

The story that line links to is this one: CIA says release of Osama bin Laden's photo likely

Alas, alas, for proofreading.

#2 ::: marc sobel ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2011, 12:37 AM:

Nah, it's just that all these Muslims look alike.

#3 ::: Jack Foy ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2011, 12:47 AM:

During National Public Radio's special coverage on Monday morning, the host -- I believe it was Renee Montagne, though I'm not sure -- very clearly stumbled over "Oba- Osama bin Laden".

#4 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2011, 01:06 AM:

Xeni did it, too.

I think there've been a couple times over the past few years when I've thought or said "Obama" instead of "Osama", or vice-versa, but I don't think the error got past my fingers into the keyboard. Been deliberately writing "bin Laden" the past couple days just in case.

#5 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2011, 01:32 AM:

I've heard it argued that it's a function of autocorrect; which ties into my complaint about Firefox not knowing Obama. I am not sure I believe that, as it doesn't know Osama either (bin Laden I figure are covered under other meanings for those spellings.

#6 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2011, 01:56 AM:

It's a strong argument for switching to "Usama". Which I had heard Fox had done.

#7 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2011, 05:24 AM:

Meanwhile, yesterday morning the announcer on WETA-FM stated that he had just played "the Bacchanale from Saint-Saëns and Delilah".

#8 ::: Russ ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2011, 05:42 AM:

My wife came into the living room Sunday night and initiated this exchange:

"Have you heard? They've killed Obama!"
"It was just on the news - they've killed Obama."
"Oh my God! Who? Are you sure?!!!"
"Oh. Hang on. Oops...I mean Osama"

Once I'd recovered I was amused* by the idea that the same mistake could have occurred somewhere in the CIA.

* though on reflection, not really.

#10 ::: Adam Lipkin ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2011, 06:27 AM:

As Ferrett Steinmetz noted, not everything Fox does has to be a part of their agenda. This is a pretty easy thing for everyone to mess up.

#11 ::: rgh ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2011, 06:38 AM:

"Oßama" it is then, as the Germans would put it.

#12 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2011, 08:29 AM:

I bet Roosevelt was glad that his name wasn't Ritler.

#14 ::: Naomi Parkhurst ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2011, 08:57 AM:

I embarrassed myself yesterday by saying Obama instead of Osama. It's a pretty straightforward speech error, though; I expect they're filed close to each other in my brain for two reasons: rhyming and politics.

#16 ::: Merav ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2011, 11:55 AM:

I wonder if this is going to be a modern Jeroboam and Rehoboam to confuse and confound students in a thousand years?

#17 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2011, 12:56 PM:

So, I have a question -- what's socially marked when people generally use a first name ("Osama") and what's marked by a last name ("Obama")? This confusion wouldn't be happening if people were being consistent about what name to use -- and clearly there's some specific marking happening here. Part of it is belittling the person whose first name is used (as if one were their social equal rather than in a deferential position), some of it is respecting the person whose last name is used, but I think there's something more than that going on.

#18 ::: Keith Kisser ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2011, 01:03 PM:

Avram @4:

I'm so glad to hear I'm not the only one who does that!

Luckily, the only time I've slipped up and said Obama insetad of Osama was to my wife. she knew what I meant.

#19 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2011, 01:14 PM:

I think the Obama/Osama error is one of those inevitable unfortunate typos, like united/untied and public/pubic -- easy for the fingers and brain to make, hard for the proofreading eye to spot, and all but guaranteed to show up in the most embarrassing contexts possible.

#20 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2011, 01:14 PM:

Consider the problems faced by Niger Innis, who, by virtue of the fact that he is a black Republican who is willing to speak up for his party at a moment's notice, is a frequent guest on Fox, MSNBC &c.

It was MSNBC, surprisingly, not Faux Noise, that did the dirty deed:

#21 ::: Susie ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2011, 01:31 PM:

Tom @17: It may be at least partly a cultural difference. Though I'm no expert, I seem to remember from discussions of the Iraq wars that in at least some Arabic-speaking countries, it's common, and not disrespectful, to use the first rather than the family name for public figures. Thus, Saddam rather than Hussein.

(Proofreading "public" vewy, vewy carefully!)

#22 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2011, 01:38 PM:

Would that also be why Zawahari gets referred to as "Mr." when he's an M.D., Susie?

And we see other figures referred to by first names instead of last -- it isn't just in this one case.

#23 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2011, 01:51 PM:

Debra Doyle #19: I've seen the public/pubic one made in a couple of unfortunate places (a student paper on gay rights, for example). I've also frequently seen references to the Untied Nations (especially from a newspaper for which I used to work). What I've very rarely seen have been references to the Untied States, Harry Turtledove's novel aside.

#24 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2011, 02:00 PM:

Debrah Doyle @ 19... Obama/Osama error is one of those inevitable unfortunate typos, like united/untied and public/pubic

Or flourosphere?

#25 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2011, 02:02 PM:

Once a female co-worker, about to ask one more question, asked me to bare with her.

#26 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2011, 02:03 PM:

Bare With Me sounds like a documentary about naturism.

#27 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2011, 02:25 PM:

Susie, #21: The explanation I always heard for "Saddam" was that it was to differentiate him from King Hussein of Jordan, a political ally. OTOH, since the latter died in 1999, that could be entirely hogwash.

#28 ::: The Modesto Kid ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2011, 02:32 PM:

But, but, whoa: This misstatement from Fox seems to go far beyond the merely typographical.

"President Obama is in fact dead" says the newsreader.

#29 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2011, 02:43 PM:

Susie #21: in at least some Arabic-speaking countries, it's common, and not disrespectful, to use the first rather than the family name for public figures.

Also, where it's a ruling family in charge, they have a bit of the "Chinese telephone book" problem. (In contrast, European royalty just dispensed with last names altogether.)

#30 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2011, 03:06 PM:

Fragano@23: What I've very rarely seen have been references to the Untied States, Harry Turtledove's novel aside.

At another point on the political spectrum, Jessica Mitford wrote in one of her memoirs about the unfortunate tendency of badly-proofread Communist Party of America publications to call for the presentation of an untied front.

(And as long as we're talking about distressing typos -- let's not even get into all the opportunities for mischief presented by the similarity between "not" and "now".)

#31 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2011, 03:10 PM:

I can't possibly be the only one who remembers seeing "Dyslexics Untie!" buttons at conventions.

#32 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2011, 03:25 PM:


#33 ::: Steve Buchheit ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2011, 03:26 PM:

Never attribute evil intent to what can be just chalked up to stupidity.

#34 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2011, 03:58 PM:

Debra Doyle @ #30, there's a scene in one of the Nero Wolfe books in which Archie's adrenalin is so elevated he misspells an address on an envelope he plans to mail to "American Counimmst Party."

I'm sure the US Postal Service would have properly delivered it.

#35 ::: Naomi Parkhurst ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2011, 04:59 PM:

Fragano @23

When I was in college, one of my summer jobs was at the college library, in the years when they were making the switch from the paper card catalog to the online catalog.

One of my tasks was to proofread long printouts of subject headings. There were lots of subject headings that started with "Untied States of America". I got a fit of the giggles and marked them to be fixed.

At least those subject headings weren't still there when the online catalog went public.

#36 ::: Slybrarian ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2011, 05:11 PM:

Tom@17: To add to what a couple others above had said, Arab naming conventions are different from the typical Western (or for that matter Asian) format. They tend to use a lot of patronymics, place references, and other relative terms rather than what we would consider a family name. bin Laden is literally 'son of Laden', and in many places it's common to change names over time. Thus you get names that are the equivalent of "Tom, son of Victor, father of Walt, of Indiana." It's very similar to names as used in Iceland. The current PM is Johanna Sigursdottir, but in the (Icelandic) press she's PM Johanna, not PM Sigursdottir.

Of course, all of this turns into a train wreck when you hit writing style guides, and that's before you start talking about how to transliterate between languages. (Usama vs Osama, Quadaffi vs Kaddafi vs Khadiffi etc). It's frequently the case that just a first name gets used for sufficiently famous or powerful people, because it's obvious that when you say 'Saddam' you mean 'Saddam Hussein al-Tikrit' and not some other Saddam.

#37 ::: Pfusand ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2011, 05:33 PM:

My all-time favorite was a spoken error on the radio. Mount Pinatubo was erupting then, and, in a reference to Subic Bay, the announcer had swapped their leading consonants. The announcer tried two or three times to find a plausible pronounciation that started "Pu-" but had to give up entirely.

#38 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2011, 07:44 PM:

Naomi, we discovered a similar problem when getting the U. Kans. (Lawrence) library's card catalogs cleaned up for digitizing.

It was way bigger. At some point someone started a whole section devoted to Britian. Sort of but not really same as Britain. It appears to have happened for a number of years. But I was too busy in Acquisitions and then making a transition to Interlibrary loan to have any part in any investigation into it.

We did set it all right. (And remember this was in the late 70s-early 80s.)

#39 ::: Naomi Parkhurst ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2011, 08:11 PM:

Paula, that sounds really painful.

I know there were a bunch of other typos I came across in the online catalog, but none of them stuck in my head like the Untied States. Britian is pretty memorable, though. It's like an alternate universe in the catalog! (And I feel sad about all the books people had difficulty locating.)

It's not to say that typos don't happen in library catalogs now, of course; I periodically send emails to my library's tech services department with some minor correction or another.

The one that grates is the one where the title is spelled wrong *on the book*.

#40 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2011, 08:37 PM:

One of the more amusing versionsof that last, Naomi P., is the SFBC edition of The Best of Fredric Brown, whose introduction by Robert Bloch begins "I hope they don't misspell his name." The spine of the book, not the jacket, doesn't misspell Brown's name.

It misspells Bloch's (as Block).

#41 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2011, 08:48 PM:

Naomi Parkhurst as #39:
"The one that grates is the one where the title is spelled wrong *on the book*."

That must make you sic.

#42 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2011, 08:49 PM:

Serge@25, Xopher@26 - My wife once put a paranormal romance novel in the paper-recycling bin. "That bad?" It wasn't just the general trashiness and newagey preachiness that made her not want to inflict it on future used-book consumers - it was the impression that the proofreader had just gone home around page 30, leaving phrases like "more than she could bare" and pluralization-by-apostrophe-s and and other constant grating misuse. The writing itself was pretty bad, and I don't think it's just because it's a genre I don't read. It was from about five years ago, and claimed to be the third book by the author, and sorry to say, it was published by Tor. (Title was "Colliding Forces"; don't remember the author.)

#43 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2011, 08:54 PM:

On the lead topic, a lot of right-wingers over the last few years have done the "Osama-er-I-mean-Obama" verbal slip often enough that I assumed it's usually intentional.

And of course now the headlines are saying that the White House doesn't plan to release them, though Reuters apparently had leaked pictures of some other people killed in the raid on their website earlier today.

#44 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2011, 08:56 PM:

Naomi Parkhurst #35: People not getting the name of their own country right? That takes some doing.

#45 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2011, 08:59 PM:

Sometimes the error is of another kind, one that may be unwittingly illustrative. The library of my undergraduate university listed in its card catalogue Robert Graves's The Crowning Privilege (his lectures as Professor of Poetry at Oxford) as The Crowing Privilege, something he took with some frequency in those lectures as I recall.

#46 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2011, 09:06 PM:

RE: first names

This is one of those odditiies, with no necessary tie to deference. It's Queen Elizabeth; in the Episcopal prayers, it's "Barack, President of the United States, Robert, the Governor of Virginia, and Dwight the Mayor; Peter, our bishop;" and etc.

#47 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2011, 09:07 PM:

Bill Stewart @ 42... Is there such a thing as more than a lady can bare? :-)

#48 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2011, 09:10 PM:

I wonder if "Going Rouge" has been remaindered?

#49 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2011, 09:33 PM:

One of my favorite accidental-but-let's-save-it typos was "Poserpoint"

#50 ::: sisuile ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2011, 11:03 PM:

SamChevre @ 46

According to my liturgics professor, it's because we're praying personally for that person, as we would for a friend or family member. It serves to remind us that they are a person as well as a public figure, a child of God no matter what else we might think of them.

Sometimes we pray for them to see sense, sometimes for us to see their point of view, sometimes for their opponents to see that they're right, and sometimes for God to do what is best for all of us.

#51 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2011, 01:58 AM:

Steve Buchheit @33: Never attribute evil intent to what can be just chalked up to stupidity.

Puts me in mind of a line from a student essay: "Nowdays we no longer believe that whirlpools are caused by demons. So sailors caught in them can take comfort in knowing that it wasn't demons that killed them".

#52 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2011, 03:35 AM:

Our local radio newsreader/would-be DJ (of whom we have a pretty poor opinion anyway) managed to say, at the end of the piece about Osama bin Laden getting killed, "so that's it, President Obama has been killed".

He then carried on with the next news item, apparently oblivious of what he'd said, leaving my husband and I staring at each other in disbelieve and saying. "Did he just say what I thought he said?" "Well, yes, I heard it too."

We noted that he was lucky it was a local radio staton that is, as far as I know, not capturable online.

#53 ::: Jen Birren ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2011, 07:08 AM:

Debra Doyle #30: (And as long as we're talking about distressing typos -- let's not even get into all the opportunities for mischief presented by the similarity between "not" and "now".)

I know a poem about that...

"On murder in the first degree
The Law, I knew, is rigid:
Its attitude, if A kills B,
To A is always frigid.
It counts it not a trivial slip
If on behalf of authorship
You liquidate compositors.
This kind of conduct it abhors
And seldom will allow.
Nevertheless, I deemed it best
And in the public interest
To buy a gun, to oil it well,
Inserting what is called a shell,
And go and pot
With sudden shot
This printer who had printed 'not'
When I had written 'now'."

(All five verses at link.)
I like light verse but somehow haven't sought out more of Wodehouse's- must remedy that.

#54 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2011, 07:22 AM:

Typos in cataloging: I don't often have to deal with genuine typos anymore, but there are some shelves at the bookshop we try to keep alphabetized... there's some folks who'll stuff a book in the nearest shelf, others who'll put it in somewhere in the area of its last initial... and at least some folks who meant well, but forgot that, e.g., "Wolfe" comes before "Woolf".

PS: Proper bookstore etiquette is that if you're not able or willing to reshelve a book, return it to staff so they can do it! I was going to say "or at least stack it with other books waiting to be shelved/reshelved", but that's probably how quite a few books wound up in the wrong section of the store.

#55 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2011, 08:51 AM:

It isn't just Fox: Last night on The Daily Show, Jon Stewart made this error, then brought out the "Osama/Obama Flub Jar" (already crammed with coins) and put a quarter in it.

#56 ::: Mark ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2011, 09:15 AM:

Serge @ 47: Not on the internet.

And @ 48: Going Rouge is an actual title, and by all accounts more readable than that other, misspelled version.

#57 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2011, 09:38 AM:

Mark @ 56... Ooooh... Maybe I should get a copy of that, and proudly display it next to my George W Bush action figure.

#58 ::: Susie ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2011, 09:57 AM:

Tom @22: About Zawahari I have no idea. I wonder if Language Log has addressed this question yet...

#59 ::: Alex ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2011, 01:08 PM:

Typos - sorry, topys - are the branching points of the multiverse. Somewhere there is an alternative Britian where everything is subtly differant.

#60 ::: Sandy B. ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2011, 01:25 PM:

I started saying "President Obama" and "Bin Laden" after making the mistake three times in one night. Hopefully I'm over it.

#61 ::: Lin D ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2011, 03:02 PM:

I started saying "POTUS" or "The President", and "bin Laden" after listening to several such inversions. My listeners picked it up, too. Took the "O" word completely out of circulation.

#62 ::: Mark ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2011, 03:57 PM:

I've noticed that NPR has started using Usama. Not sure when they started, but heard it in the 1pm headlines.

#63 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2011, 06:29 PM:

Serge - Going Rouge was about 50% off in my local going-out-of-business Borders.

#64 ::: VCarlson ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2011, 12:26 AM:

I once bought a T-shirt with "Untied Church of Dog," complete with sketch of happy-looking dog trailing a leash, with my mother in mind. I told myself at the time it was to give to her, but a) she didn't wear T-shirts and b) she didn't wear those colors, anyway. I don't wear those colors, either, so it sat there with my multitudinous other T-shirts, until I did serious weeding before moving.

Mom was dyslexic, and that, combined with her unfortunate habit of asking her teachers they didn't know the answers to, were why (I am convinced) she was labeled "retarded." She believed it, too, until she learned otherwise, in her 30s.

Anyway, I always smile when I think of "Mom's T-shirt," even though it never was.

I also maintain a list of correctly spelled words paired with the other correctly spelled word(s) with entirely different meanings. It makes me feel better.

#65 ::: Ledasmom ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2011, 06:55 PM:

I recall once hearing on the radio that a famous tennis player had been elected to the International House of Pancakes.

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