Boko Haram, Boca Raton, whatever

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We were recently treated to lovely example of a "Fay-Cutler malapropism", that is, a speech-production error in which the speaker intends to say word X but actually comes out with word Y, where Y is typically similar to X in number of syllables, shares some sounds and even whole syllables, is the same part of speech, and so on.

Tracy Walsh, "GOP Congressman Mixes Up Boko Haram And Boca Raton", TPM 2/13/2015:

Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) confused the Nigerian terrorist group Boko Haram with a mid-sized Florida city during an appearance Tuesday on CNN, the Sun Sentinel newspaper in Florida reported Wednesday.  

Gosar said that if the U.S. were to pay ransom to terrorists, then "every American citizen traveling abroad becomes a subject in regard for kidnapping and then the plight of how much money has been captivated in the Boca Raton group." 

On Friday, his office issued a news release making light of the gaffe, saying that the congressman "had been awake for almost 24 hours and had given many interviews that day."

The classical examples include things like "Liszt's second Hungarian restaurant" instead of "Liszt's second Hungarian rhapsody".

Boca Raton, the name of a city in Florida, means "mouse inlet"; Boko Haram, the name of a Nigerian political cult, means "western education is forbidden".



  1. Raphael Adams said,

    February 16, 2015 @ 9:02 pm

    When I see the name of this terrorist group, I think of Procul Harum – of Whiter Shade of Pale fame. But Boca Raton is worse.

  2. djbcjk said,

    February 16, 2015 @ 11:10 pm

    Is this the only malapropism in the sentence? I find in 'the plight of how much money has been captivated' two more, which takes the sentence well beyond the level of comprehensibility.

  3. Lee Dembart said,

    February 17, 2015 @ 12:03 am

    One of the worst (or best) such malapropisms was uttered in June 2009 by the then British prime minister, Gordon Brown, at the ceremonies marking the 65th anniversary of the D-Day landing on Omaha Beach in France. In his remarks, Brown called the place "Obama Beach."

    You can see the video on YouTube at "Obama Beach" occurs about 20 seconds in.

  4. Pat Barrett said,

    February 17, 2015 @ 12:19 am

    We have a tradition of captivating money here in AZ – other people's, and then calling it "the invisible hand of the market". You can't live here if you don't have silver hair, a silver tongue, and a good tan, just like in Boca Raton.

  5. Keith said,

    February 17, 2015 @ 2:48 am

    As pointed out by djbcjk, the last part of the quote is odd. It reads like gobbledygook to me.

    I don't know if I'm using the correct terminology, but I read it like this:
    1 "every American citizen traveling abroad" as the noun phrase,
    2 followed by the verb "becomes",
    3 followed by two independent structures:
    4.a "a subject in regard for kidnapping" and
    4.b "the plight of how much money has been captivated in the Boca Raton group".

    So stripping out 4.a, I'm left with:
    "every American citizen traveling abroad becomes the plight of how much money has been captivated in the Boca Raton group".

    Back on the subject of malapropisms, though, there was a great one by Rachida Dati when she was mayor of the VII arrondissement of Paris, interviewed on 26 September 2010; talking about the economic situation she decried "[foreign investment funds seeking] returns of 20 or 25% with practically no fellatio", as reported in the link below, among other places.

  6. chips mackinolty said,

    February 17, 2015 @ 9:15 am

    Goodness me! As anyone who has worked as a media minder/spinner knows, there is the excruciating torture of your charge saying something—ad lib—that destroys the moment for ever.
    My French is seriously rusty, so had to watch the Rachida Dati interview a few times to confirm the gaffe. It’s more than a malapropism. It’s a monument to human frailty when exposed to a media interview in which the tongue runs infinitely faster than the brain, let alone sober reflection.
    Is there a word for this? There should be. Along with "crash blossom" and its ilk, let us go with “fellatio fallacy” for such a wonderfully awkward moment for public figures.
    And don’t even go near using “ph” to replace the letter “f”. That would be too unkind.

  7. Robert Coren said,

    February 17, 2015 @ 10:55 am

    And then there's the (in)famous case of US Rep. Dick Armey (R-TX) referring to his D-MA colleague as "Barney Fag", which I've always assumed was a result of his tongue finding a name that he'd been using in private.

  8. djw said,

    February 17, 2015 @ 11:22 am

    I'm with Keith on this; the whole thing is such a mess that "Boca Raton" doesn't jump out at me. Not the first politician to spout word salad, though.

  9. J. W. Brewer said,

    February 17, 2015 @ 12:40 pm

    Some distance on the other side of Miami from Boca Raton is Islamorada, Fla., which my brain (when it sees it in writing) keeps refusing not to associate with Islam regardless of how many times I remind myself it's just a joined-up spelling of the originally Spanish Isla Morada. It seems like that might be a politician/newscaster gaffe just waiting to happen.

  10. J. W. Brewer said,

    February 17, 2015 @ 12:46 pm

    "Obama Beach" sounds really implausible to me (both on the page and in the audio), but I think that's because "Omaha" has first syllable stress while "Obama" has second-syllable stress. But I suppose it's not implausible that a British politician wouldn't have had occasion to have heard "Omaha" said aloud on enough occasions to have internalized the stress pattern? (Just as my own confusion in the prior example may be because I haven't heard "Islamarada" said aloud very much compared to the number of times I've seen it in writing.)

  11. Jason Siegel said,

    February 17, 2015 @ 12:49 pm

    The gloss for Boko Haram seems off to me. It reminded me of this article ( that cites Paul Newman's work on the etymology of boko, which attributes the word to something more like 'fraudulence'.

  12. David Morris said,

    February 17, 2015 @ 2:36 pm

    It's just as well there isn't an originally Spanish Isla Mofobia.

  13. Rebecca said,

    February 17, 2015 @ 4:04 pm

    I'm wondering if Obama Beach is anteleprompter misread rather than a slip of the tongue. I could well imagine goancing at that character string and landing on the much more commonly seen "Obama"

  14. Yakusa Cobb said,

    February 17, 2015 @ 5:37 pm

    @Rebbeca: The Youtube link provided by Lee Dembart clearly shows that George Brown is reading from a dead tree script, not a teleprompter.
    However, this does not invalidate your general point: on the contrary, the link shows that 'Ohama' and 'Obama' occur very close together in the character string:

    …next to Ohama Beach we join President Obama…

  15. MikeA said,

    February 17, 2015 @ 10:25 pm

    Considering that the IBM 5150 (immortalized by Van Halen) a.k.a. the PC, was developed in Boca Raton, I find it easy to believe that quite a bit of money has been captivated in it. But yeah, that whole sentence is a trainwreck sufficient to prompt questions about what pharmaceutical aids were used to stay awake for 24 hours.

  16. J. W. Brewer said,

    February 18, 2015 @ 12:05 pm

    So is there a different term of art (i.e. not "Fay-Cutler malapropism") where a speech production error is caused by misreading from a script, and accidentally using a more common word instead of the visually-similar less-common word that's actually written on the page and actually makes sense in context?

  17. Jerry Friedman said,

    February 18, 2015 @ 2:43 pm

    Incidentally, the reporter describes the press release as "making light of the gaffe", but that's not what "making light" means to me.

  18. Isaac said,

    February 18, 2015 @ 5:40 pm

    Must've been a slow news day. "This just in: a human being made a minor mistake."

  19. Ron said,

    February 18, 2015 @ 8:24 pm

    Just watched the Rachida Dati video. Wow, Parisians speak really, really fast! And if I didn't know ahead of time what I was listening for I'm sure I would have heard "inflation" not "fellation" – my ear isn't that good.

    I've been watching a lot of French TV news lately and I've noticed how slowly and distinctly French politicians and officials speak in public. I can't imagine it's their natural cadence. I wonder what would happen if Dati got elected President!

  20. Dan T. said,

    February 23, 2015 @ 5:40 pm

    Boca Raton (where I live) does have some reputation for being the home of scams and spams, but not terrorist ransom plots.

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