You Say Obama and I Say Osama: Steinhardt Speech Faculty Explain the Gaffe

Harriet Klein and Adam Buchwald, faculty in Steinhardt’s Department of Communicative Sciences and Disorders, were interviewed by salon.com about why interviewers are calling Osama Obama and vice versa.

Assistant Professor Adam Buchwald explained that the more similar words are, the more likely they are to be substituted for one another, while Professor Harriet Klein explained the gaffe as a result of a physiological process called “assimilation.” She noted that “Osama” can become “Obama” when anticipating a sound in one name influences the production of inaccurate sound in another.

She noted that there is no physiological explanation for confusing Obama with Osama. “It seems more derogatory to call Barack “Osama.” It feels almost more psychological,” Klein said.

Read the salon.com article, Why We Keep Calling Osama “Obama”