Monday, May 16, 2011

Obama vs. Osama

UPENN linguistics professor Mark Liberman explains that the common slip between "Obama" and "Osama" is due to the "syntactic category rule" (SCR) phenomenon and "priming."

SCR occurs when two words are confused for one another and occur when nouns replace nouns, verbs replace verbs, etc. If "Obama" were an adjective, not a noun, we probably wouldn't confuse "Obama" with the noun "Osama."

"Priming" (which seems to be an evolutionary adaptation) is when your brain makes certain words more accessible when they resemble (sound, meaning) words you frequently hear. So when we've read/heard/thought about hospitals, "doctor" and "nurse" will be recognized quicker and more likely to be used in a slip of the tongue.

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