August 21, 2004

Dead language, dead factor

Karen Rothkin emailed an interesting mis-hearing in the transcript of Mark Shields and Irving Kristol discussing Kerry's war record on the Jim Lehrer News Hour:

MARK SHIELDS: I'll tell you where it's going to be a factor, and that is John McCain, a man for whom I have enormous respect. John McCain has to make a choice. John McCain has become the dead factor running mate of George W. Bush.

The audio makes it clear that Mark Shields said "de facto running mate", but presumably the transcriptionist did not know the Latin expression de facto, and so was willing to substitute the rather low probability string "dead factor" as the best available option. It's phonetically pretty reasonable: [ˈdei ˈfæk.tou] is not far from [ˈdɛd ˈfæk.tɔɹ], especially since the final [ɹ] can be picked up from the beginning of the following words "running mate", and the effects of a final [d] on the preceding vowel are quite similar to those of a high front offglide.

We've recently seen another example of a transcription eggcorn from this same news show: "handfisted" for "hamfisted". I wonder whether the Jim Lehrer news hour gets their transcriptions done in India. Perhaps vocabulary from Sanskrit would be more accurately transcribed than bits of Latin are.


Posted by Mark Liberman at August 21, 2004 06:05 PM