Friday, March 28, 2003

A clever piece by Geoff Nunberg on NPR this afternoon, observing that the pronunciation of "Iraq" as "eye-rack" (as opposed to, say, "ear-aak") by certain administration officials was a calculated "faux-Bubba" gesture, in line with pronunciations like "A-rab" or "I-talian." Or, for that matter, "nyu-cle-ar."

I remember in high school doing a report on the development of the atomic bomb, and reading how the general in charge of the Manhattan Project once went through a briefing with the project's top scientists saying "isotrope" every time he meant "isotope." The scientists looked increasingly terrified. Afterwards one of the general's aides pulled him aside and mentioned that he had been mispronouncing the word. The general smiled, said innocently, "Oh, was I?" and walked away, leaving the distinct impression that his "error" had been quite intentional.

The moral: Don't misunderestimate the man in charge.

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