May 11, 2004

Taggaboo, Abboo Grebb, whatever

Listening to the U.S. Senate's Armed Services Committee hearings on the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal this morning, I heard several manglings of the name of General Taguba. His name is about as difficult to pronounce as "Toledo" or "tuxedo", but at least two Senators said "TAGG-uh-boo" or "TAGG-oo-boo" and the chairman said "Tah-KOO-bah" toward the end. And as for the name of the Abu Ghraib prison complex, I heard all of the following:

Abboo GAH-beeAbbo GARB
Abbo Gah-RABAbboo Gah-RIBE
Abboo Gu-REBBAbbah GRAHB

I've said this before, but... It really does seem as if American political figures actually try to avoid being good at pronouncing foreign words. These are men and women who spend their lives speaking in public on important topics. They have highly educated staff members to do research for them. Why on earth couldn't they get a bit better at pronouncing simple place names and names of U.S. generals? My hypothesis: U.S. Senators know that being good at pronouncing Filipino personal names or Arabic place names wouldn't gain them votes, but would more likely lose votes. I just don't see what else could explain how randomly inexpert Senators are on these things compared to (for instance) BBC World Service newsreaders.

Posted by Geoffrey K. Pullum at May 11, 2004 06:31 PM