If anyone sees a link to the audio clip that has Dave Lenihan’s notorious sentence that got him fired (on the air) yesterday morning, please leave it in the comments or shoot me an email. This is a transcript from that article:
She’s been chancellor of Stanford. She’s got the patent resume of somebody that has serious skill. She loves football. She’s African-American, which would kind of be a big coon. A big coon. Oh my God. I am totally, totally, totally, totally, totally sorry for that.
I didn’t mean that. It was just a slip of the tongue. She’s definitely got all the attributes to be commissioner. I’m really sorry about that.
Very ugly. uI’ve seen two theories of what he’d meant to say, one discussed in that article is Larry Elder‘s, that Lenihan disfluently blended the words coup and boon. A blend is a word formed by combining two separate words, like Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez into Bennifer. Under this theory, Lenihan invented a blend word when confronted between a choice of two words that was unfortunately already an unpleasant word in the language. (This sort of disfluency is discussed a bit here.) The other theory is that he’d meant to say “… be a big coup for the NFL” and he anticipated the [n] in NFL two words away. The word [En Ef El] is an unlikely source for the errant nasal alveolar, but a more likely explanation is that he’d meant to say “… coup in the NFL.” The first theory makes it sound as though having an African-American commissioner would be desirous from the perspecitve of the NFL power players; mine offers an interpretation that Lenihan believes the NFL bigshots would be resistant to having an African-American commissioner, although Rice’s credentials are impressive enough that she’s got a good shot at overcoming their resistance and that would be a coup for other qualified African-American executives and coaches whose careers in the NFL are currently being held back by that very same resistance. I also tentatively disprefer Elder’s theory since Lenihan and his former boss Tim Dorsey unamibguously insist that he’d meant to say “coup” in all the articles I’ve read.
But I want to hear the audio for myself to test if the theory has any legs to stand on. I’d predict that the second formant (a harmonic frequency generally controlled by changing the shape of the lips and tongue) would increase as the vowel continued and that F1 would increaes too quickly in anticipation of the [n] closure, and that the second utterance would have longer vowel duration and more pronounced increase of F2. It’s not completely out of the realm of possibility for a relatively untrained public speaker like Lenihan (judging from his career path to talk radio as described by the article) to have trouble performing the necessary [cUIn] gesture fluently enough in rapid speech. Another interpretation would be that he’d reduced the vowel completely, as in if you quickly said “a dog ‘n heat” or “a pea ‘n my soup.” In that sense, I’m not certain that there’d be an acoustic difference between the fluent, coup in and coon. Some might predict that the reduced in would be a syllabic nasal and so should endure longer than you’d expect, but if any lenghtening on the nasal gesture is present, I’d just as likely attribute it to the realization of what he’d just said on the air.
What’s troubling is that he so immediately recognized the severity of an otherwise un-noteworthy speech error–and ironically, if he hadn’t noticed and just finished the sentence nobody else would have either. I don’t see that firing him on the spot was the appropriate course of action unless KTRS management was looking for an excuse to get rid of him. I’d have suspended him on the spot with a pending review as to when or if he’d be back on the air. (Given the substantial PR miscues already made by KTRS to get themselves any press at all, I’m a little bit cautious to mention this story for fear of Schupp-lackey spam.)
(Off topic, but Cardnilly’s back on the uninum posting kick!)
Update: The local talk radio station replays Sean Hannity at nighttime. Usually he irritates me quite a bit, but tonight he was interviewing Dave Lenihan, who confirmed the obvious, that he’d intended to say “… coup in the NFL…” but hypercorrected himself, setting into motion the change of events that twenty minutes later would cause him to be unemployed. I’d still like to get a link to the program’s audio. I hate to admit this, but I’m quite skilled at manipulating audio to make it sound like people said things they hadn’t said. (I’ve only used this skill for the good of making high-quality classroom materials, although I’ve taught it to others who have used it for questionable purposes, in my vain opinion.) I’m highly confident that I could, given the proper snippets of audio, construct an audio bite of him saying what he meant to say in a way that would draw no controversy.
As for popular talk radio hosts irritating me lately. I was driving around the other day and Rush was talking about his solution for the guerilla war in Iraq. It was to send 10,000 more peace activists over there to be taken hostage, which would shift guerilla personell from IED planting duty to guard duty. He meant it as a joke, sure, but it’s not funny. These people are kidnapped by low-life gangsters to be sold to sadistic terrorists, in whose captivity they endure horrors and mutilations that are no laughing matter. Limbaugh was a funny guy in peacetime, I’ll give him that, and hope to return to it after five or ten years of steady progress.
Update 2: I listened to the audio from the Post-Dispatch site and looked at spectrograms for the two instances of “coup in” and think I probably would have fired him, too. I’d assumed from the transcript that he’d repeated himself to try to correct himself, but he was just bringing to attention what it sounded like he’d said. I’d have fired him for the amateurism of it. For the record though, he never said “coon.” He twice says, “a big coup in.” I’d be willing to wager that a well-trained automatic speech recognizer might transcibe it that way, although I don’t have one handy to test that bet.