The most recent Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me! (NPR’s news quiz show) had the wonderful Mavis Staples as a guest, talking engagingly about her life, singing some songs, and answering quiz questions. Along the way she referred to the president-elect of the U.S. as “Barama”, but quickly corrected herself to “Barack Obama”. That was probably a telescoping of the full name. Others have made the same error, and some people have coined “Barama” intentionally. Meanwhile, the spoonerized “Oback Barama” has a life of its own, both as an error and as an intentional creation (like “one swell foop” for “one fell swoop”).

(Just plain “Barama” could, of course, occur as an inadvertent blend, as a result of competition in speech production between “Barack” and “Obama” for reference to the man. But Staples supplied the full name as her correction.)

Here’s another inadvertent occurrence, from a blogger in London:

Lots of Obama love in London right now. I made it to my Ashtanga yoga class this afternoon for the first time in weeks. My back, shoulders, and neck have been knotted for several days now. The instructor constantly admonishes us to smile, generally using a handful of stock phrases most of us have memorized.Today he included a new one, which apparently tripped him up: “Bush is nearly gone, so give a big, big smile for Barama!”

We certainly smiled big at his error, and he corrected himself on the next round.

And one intentional one:

Oct 23, 2006 … Newsweek guy Evan Thomas TWICE referred to Obama as “Barama”. Imus questioned Thomas on it….Thomas clearly did NOT apologize for it as a faux pas.

….It seemed E.T. was trying to play cutsie with Obama’s name, rather like a nickname or a show of favoritism, in my opinion. (link)

On to “Oback Barama”. I’ll give just one example, which has been reported on on several sites, for instance here:

Kweisi Mfume, on MSNBC, said “Oback Barama.” And then, a minute later, referred to him again as “Barama.”

With a handle like ‘Kweisi Mfume,’ you’d think he’d pay attention to pronouncing someone else’s name correctly, ya know?

It’s an error, but of what sort? Had Mfume (as other bloggers have suggested) internalized the wrong version of the name? That could explain the repetition of the name. Or was it just a momentary lapse, like classic spoonerisms? I find it hard to believe that Mfume had failed to learn the man’s name correctly, and I also have an account of the repetition.

The fact is that inadvertent errors sometimes perseverate. It’s very annoying. During a faculty meeting some time ago, a colleague referred to “teaching assistants”, when it was research assistants we were talking about. He corrected himself, but went on to say “teaching assistants” again and again. At that point, what he wanted to say was clear enough to the rest of us, so we just let him him go on in the grip of his temporary affliction.

2 Responses to “Barama”

  1. Brief mention: telescoping | Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] Then there’s telescoping as an inadvertent error in speech — for instance, in two instances of Barack Obama inadvertently telescoped to Barama (and then corrected), as reported in this posting. […]

  2. Classical Spoonerism | Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] from his own experience: tissy pookler for pussy tickler ‘mustache’, and I’ve posted on inadvertent Oback Barama). Intentional — playful — word-part transpositions are […]

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: