Today’s stunning word retrieval error

From Ned Deily on Facebook:

Today’s Revisionist Word Fail (as seen in another FB group): “today marks the 40th anniversary of the assignation of Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk.”

A form-based, rather than meaning-based error, but possibly prompted by spelling rather than pronunciation; the error was in writing, after all.

The spellings share ASS .. .NATION, both their beginnings and their ends. At first glance, the accent patterns are quite different, however: WSWSW in assasination, SWSW in assignation; but preservation of accent patterns is a strong factor in phonologically-based retrieval error.

But the target and error words share SWSW, with /æs/ shared at the beginning of this portion and /nešǝn/ at the end, so both effects might be at work.

As is so often the case, semantics might not be entirely irrelevant. The person who made the error might well have had Milk’s homosexuality in their mind, biasing them towards retrieving a sexually tinged item (like assignation).

I’m charmed by the idea that the diversity champion George Moscone and the very publicly gay Harvey Milk might have gotten it on, but it seems wildly unlikely: Milk was the wrong sex for Moscone, and (from all accounts) Moscone wasn’t Milk’s type.

But, oh, a sad, sad day. Harvey Milk Day on my calendar, since Milk was the prime target.


One Response to “Today’s stunning word retrieval error”

  1. [BLOG] Some Wednesday links | A Bit More Detail Says:

    […] Zwicky notes a remarkable word error in noting the 40th anniversary of the deaths of George Moscone and Harvey […]

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