From the pet peeves file, I simply have to take a stand against this country's repeated sin against the 44th president of the United States of America

A rose may smell as sweet, whether you call it a rose, a hornswoggle or Barry. But a president deserves more respect than even a flowering beauty, which is why I've finally reached my limit on how New Zealand media pronounce the name of the 44th president of the United States.

You can put this down as a bit of Friday frippery if you like. I was going to get my teeth into the report by the capital markets taskforce, but given its 60 recommendations, like John Key I'll take slightly longer to respond than I did to the 2025 taskforce. I'll get to the markets report next week, when we're back in Auckland.

It's been over a year since Barack Obama won the election; almost a year since he was sworn in, as billions watched him pronounce his own name as he swore the oath of office. Heck, it was the most watched election campaign in history, and night after night we have heard his name pronounced for several years. Now, as president, that continues. His name must be two of the most commonly spoken words on the planet, yet announcer after announcer in this country seems unable to get their head around it.

How many times have I watched or listen to some story by a US-based journalist while it's played on our television or radio, hearing that journalist talking about buh-RAAK oh-BAA-muh, only for the clip to end and the New Zealand announcer to refer to buh-RACK?

I hear it repeatedly on both main TV networks and on radio, including - and it sends me into sweats even writing this - National Radio. I keep thinking 'this must be the last time. Someone in authority will send out the memo'. But it goes on and on.

(And memos do go round. TVNZ was quick to correct reporters who wanted to go all Danny Kaye on us and start pronouncing the Danish capital Copen-haagen. The Danish pronunciation is with a short 'a').

Frankly, it's in danger of becoming a national embarrassment. What if Hillary Clinton does end up visiting our shores in January, and she gets asked questions about Buh-RACK? Will someone call her HIGH-lary? Sure, the odd bit of high-tech equipment shares our foible, but that's no excuse.

Obama's even on record stating that name pronunciation matters to him, and he takes care to get things right.

“When your name is Barack Obama, you're sensitive to these things,” he's said. It's just courtesy.

So let's spell this out. President Barack's not a building for soldiers to bunk in. He's not what a crowd does when it's angry at a speaker. Even though Obama is the first black president, his name doesn't rhyme with his ethnic description. His name bears no relation to the thing you store your spices in. If you don't believe me, ask the Beeb.

I understand that his name looks like 'rack', and that we usually pronounce ck-ending words with a short 'a'. Crack, track, knack, smack. But seriously, I'd like to give these script-readers a smack for their complete inability to master the knack of saying Barack Obama's name correctly. It's BaRAAK!

I imagine you have some bugbears on the pronunciation; let us know. What's been getting your goat this year?

Comments (2)

by Claire Browning on December 18, 2009
Claire Browning

Anything Toni Street says. And that dude on a quest for Yellow chocolate - Josh? Joel? - who always sounds as if he’s drooling through a mouthful of the stuff. And - while we‘re on the subject of sports reporters - that tedious little bit of banter that I suppose one calls a “throw”, into the TVNZ and RNZ sports bulletins. Why? Does it take a while to wind their brains up to top gear? - because that’s always how it sounds. And finally - nothing to do with pronunciation this one, more of a mutual incomprehension issue - 018 directory service out of the Philippines. Someone from Telecom said the other day that it has improved; based on this morning’s experience, I can assure him it has not.

by Jonathan Devine on December 18, 2009
Jonathan Devine

Is this the line for end-of-year pet peeves?

My barber asks me if I'm an IT person every time I see him and says I look like one when I respond in the negative. "What does an IT person look like?," I ask. "Unloved," he responds.

Oh, and people who step out of shops onto the footpath and who pause for long seconds, taking in their new surroundings. What, are you surprised that walking out a door delivered you to the outdoors?

Phew. Now I can enjoy Christmas.

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