The Obama/Osama mix-up

Perhaps you’ve seen it. After all, the YouTube video of a Global TV news anchor bungling Osama bin Laden’s name now has 72,000-plus views. But for those who haven’t: the anchor calls him Obama bin Laden, and not just once, but through the whole news cast.

As it turns out, reports Craig Silverman, the verbal gaffe is not uncommon. Indeed, news anchors and newspapers across the world mistakenly swapped the “s” for a “b” in their coverage of the Al Qaeda leader’s death.

But why?

For his story, posted to the Columbia Journalism Review website, Silverman interviewed Michael Erard, author of Um…: Slips, Stumbles, and Verbal Blunders, and What They Mean.

Here’s what Erard told him:

“What is happening in that specific case … is that the speaker has anticipated the ‘b’ of Bin laden and moved it up to replace the ‘s’ in Osama. That is an anticipation error, where there is a string of sounds and the person basically jumps ahead in the string and selects one sound too soon and inserts it.” In other words, writes Silverman, “had his name been Osama Tin Laden, we likely would have seen a lot fewer Obama/Osama mixups.”

The same mix-up factors apply when journalists are rushing to hammer a story out on deadline. Hence headlines like: “Obama Bin Laden Is Dead, Officials Say”