The following is a public service announcement. I just read “Very Bad News,” a review (of books on collapse and catastrophe by Jared Diamond and Richard A. Posner) by Clifford Geertz, and while I was mildly perturbed by the idea that civilization might collapse or the world be destroyed, what really got my goat was the following sentence: “On the Caribbean island of Hispaniola, two scarred and impoverished third-world societies, Franco-African Haiti and Spanish-Indian Dominica, offer, side by side, a study in contrasts…” Now, I know Geertz is a great anthropologist, and I know his specialty is Southeast Asia and North Africa, but really, this is pathetic, and shows how ignorant Americans (exemplified here by both Geertz and the crack editorial staff of the NYRB) are of the Caribbean (and Latin America in general). So: the eastern half of Hispaniola is the Dominican Republic. Several hundred miles to the east (and a bit south) is Dominica (pronounced dom-i-NEE-ca), which is an entirely different country. Sheesh.

Update. Geertz apologizes for the error.


  1. Alex Smaliy says

    One wonders where the tax money one pays to have Caribbean nations invaded has been going.

  2. And then there was the CNN news reader reading a news story on camera about South Korea referred to King Jong the Second.

  3. In addition, while Haiti is certainly more African than the Dominican Republic, the Dominican Republic is as Spanish-African as it is Spanish-Indian.

  4. In addition (and sort of where I at first thought you were going), that sentence has way too many comma-delimited adverbial phrases phrases in it.

  5. When referring to the people of The Dominican Republic and Dominica, is there any difference in terms? Does the term “Dominican” have two different pronunciations?

  6. There was an on-air ‘Kim Jong the Second’ reading in late June, courtesy of the Boston Globe’s Bob Ryan on Pardon the Interruption. I wonder if this is growing into a full-fledged urban legend…

  7. I seem to remember watching CNN just as US forces entered Haiti in 1994. And there was an anonymous second-string CNN reporter, with Port-au-Prince for a backdrop and US Blackhawks hovering overhead, solemnly intoning, “…as US helicopters fly over Mogadishu today…”
    Poof! He was gone – never to be seen on the airwaves again.
    From the very next day on, it was (who else but?) Christiane Amanpour until the situation was no longer newsworthy.

  8. zhwj: Yes, they’re both “Dominican” (if you check the “Dominica” link you’ll see “The Dominican economy depends on agriculture, primarily bananas…”), but the pronunciation would differ. And a good thing too, because do-MIN-ican already bears too much weight, what with the country and the monastic order. Of course, since nobody ever talks about Dominica, the adjective domi-NEE-can doesn’t get much use (outside of Dominica, that is).
    JJM: Great story!

  9. Daniel, Kim Jong Whatever in a story about SouthKorea?
    LH, this reminds me of the ancient Brezhnev-era Soviet joke:
    TV host: “Yesterday Leonid Il’ich took the Ambassador of Greece for Ambassador of Turkey” (of course, it sounds better in Russian, where in this context “took” has a second meaning as “welcomed”)

  10. What an odd mistake for Geertz to make. I suspect it’s the result of carelessness rather than ignorance, especially as he refers to ‘Haiti and the Dominican Republic’ elsewhere in the same piece. But I quite agree with you, the NYRB copy-editors ought to have picked it up.
    The mistake certainly doesn’t originate with Jared Diamond. I have his book out of the library at the moment, and he refers to ‘the Dominican Republic’ throughout. However, there are also several references to ‘my Dominican friends’ which might have led Geertz to ‘Dominica’ as a sort of back-formation.

  11. And there’s the neprilichnyi anekodot about Brezhnev reading a prepared greeting to the XVI conference of the All-Soviet textile workers union…

  12. I believe Dominica is the home of authentic Bay Rum, the original men’s after-shave. I have often inquired at fancy haberdashers if they have DomiNEEcan Bay Rum, but I’m always disappointed. It can be ordered online, though.
    I thought for a second there someone was going to advocate referring to citizens of the Dominican Republic as “Dominican Republicans.”

  13. HP
    If you use Bay Rum as an aftershave you will put hairs on your face – overnight!

  14. Vanya: Could you perhaps link to an online version of the anekdot? I’m fond of neprilichnye anekdoty.

  15. For some reason Moskva-Petushki comes to mind:
    А Абба Эбан и Моше Даян с языка у них не сходили. Приходят они утром с блядок, например, и один у другого спрашивает: “Ну как? Нинка из 13-ой комнаты даян эбан?” а тот отвечает с самодовольною усмешкою: “Куда ж она, падла, денется? Конечно, даян!”

  16. Something equally risible (although with fewer commas) occured in the Observer this week.
    In a piece on animal sentience, the following para is included in a list of amazingly clever creatures:
    “Another creature similarly viewed by modern society as little more than a benign food source – the cow – is also shown to be an astute animal capable of solving riddles with an intellect more traditionally associated with an ape. Studies at Oxford University found that Betty, a Caledonian heifer, instinctively bent a piece of wire, using a gap in her food tray to create a hook that allowed her to scrape food from the bottom of a jar.”
    Now this is really something! How much would you pay to see a brainy bovine bend a piece of wire, let alone use it as a tool? Who knew? Alas, the curious will search in vain for any mention elsewhere of this cerebral cud-chewer. However, Oxford University does boast a New Caledonian crow called Betty, seen on that link using a piece of twig to winkle out food.
    Somewhere, the R got dropped. Somewhere else, a piece of journalistic – or sub-editorial, which is also possible if less plausible – invention decided to add a little variety by declaring the resultant chimera a heifer. Nowhere did the blatant surrealism of the result trigger a moment’s research. Even Google would have saved the day.
    I’m a journalist on a web site. I’ve perpetrated a few howlers, but so far my internal alarm system has flagged up the worst of them. Between me and the world, there are two pairs of eyes who check what I do: it used to be the case that the nationals – especially the quality broadsheet nationals personified by the Observer – had far more well educated pairs of eyes in the path. This no longer seems to be the case. No wonder blogs with no eyeballs between writer and reader seem to be just as good an alternative.

  17. Oh man. Somehow it seems fitting that the Grauniad perpetrated that one.

  18. The Observer isn’t the Grauniad: they share owners and a web site, but they are still editorially distinct AFAIK.
    I used to read the Grauniad, but I have never had any time for the Observer. In fact, I hold (slightly contrafactually) that there simply aren’t any Sunday papers in the UK.

  19. “-and while I was mildly perturbed by the idea that civilization might collapse or the world be destroyed, what really got my goat was the following sentence-”
    Hat, I treasure your sense of humor no less than I do your sense of perspective. 🙂

  20. des: Sorry, I saw the big red Guardian Unlimited box in the upper left corner and fell precipitously into error.
    elck: Why, thank you, sir!

  21. Betty is a darling!
    [LH, she’s a natural for “Aport!” training]
    Cow, crow, shmow – what’s the difference? as we used to say in pioneer childhood: in comparison to a World Revolution…
    LH, here’s an “all-inclusive” site; I’m sure they have category you’re interested with.

  22. I really resent the negative remarks about cow intelligence here. Many cows are able to use simple tools to get that last little bit of food. Perhaps it was the archaic form “bottle of hay” (John Skelton) which led to the confusion.
    Nigerian / Nigerien, came up during the yellowcake thingie. Tomato / Tomahto, etc.

  23. I have to admit that until this very moment I did not know that the adjective for Niger was Nigerien (pronounced nee-ZHEH-rian). My Merriam-Webster’s gives Nigerois, but apparently they consider this “something of an oversight.” So thanks for enlightening me.
    You have to watch these words carefully. In French, the adjective for Niger is nigérien, while that for Nigeria is nigérian.

  24. David F. says

    Then there’s reason number 94 why the Niger documents were fake: the word for Iraq was spelled incorrectly. In French, it’s Irak, but the forgers wrote Iraq.
    (The other reasons were, among other things, the wrong government minister’s name for the time when the agreement was supposedly made, and the use of headed notepaper from a long-past military dictatorship. It’s said that IAEA analysts checked on Google and took about thirty seconds to work out that the documents were fakes.)

  25. I think I’ll provide the text of Geertz’s letter of apology (see Update):

    To the Editors:

    In my article “Very Bad News” [NYR, March 24] I confused the names of Dominica, a small island in the Caribbean, and the Dominican Republic, the Spanish-speaking half of the island of Hispaniola, and perhaps too glibly referred to the latter as “Spanish-Indian,” whereas the Indian element has long since been radically reduced. I apologize for the error.

    Clifford Geertz
    Princeton, New Jersey

  26. David Marjanović says

    And then there was the CNN news reader reading a news story on camera about South Korea referred to King Jong the Second.

    Well, that’s his True Name.

  27. How closely related is King Jong the Second to Malcolm the Tenth?

    Also, I had an uncle who’d refer to a certain baseball player from the Dominican Republic as “that there Republican.”

  28. My story about somebody misreading a Kim family name is less impressive, not a newscaster but a high school student. At a speech tournament, I was competing in the “serious reading” event, and one if the competitors was reading from a memoir by a North Korean terrorist agent. The performance violated the rules, by including sound effects, and the student pronounced the North Korean president’s name “Kim Two Sung,” which promoted looks of incredulity from several of us other competitors watching. Unfortunately, many of these competitive rounds are judged by random adults, who may know next to nothing about the rules or standards (my mother judged one debate round once, and she found it incomprehensible and disheartening), and the student in question won the round (a fact which the judge should not have revealed)./

  29. @Roger C: In my European history class, we had to do presentations as various Renaissance figures. (I was Machiavelli.) The guy who was portraying Pope Leo X wore one of the “X” hats that had been popular a few years earlier (merchandise from Spike Lee’s Malcolm X film) and referred to himself as “Leo Ex.” To the extent that this wasn’t just him being a wiseass (he won the radio commentary event at the state speech championship the previous year, in the midst of the debate over Oregon’s first-in-the-nation assisted suicide law, with a bogus story about a critically ill uncle, injured in a timber industry accident, who should be allowed to die with dignity), he was emphasizing the phoniness of the Medici popes’ legitimacy as clergymen.

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