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Sounds Like Trouble

It's likely that a few Spanish speakers cringed last night when they heard Bob Schieffer, on the "Evening News," pronouncing the name of alleged terrorist Jose Padilla, who is of Puerto Rican descent. In Spanish, the "ll" sound found in Padilla's name is traditionally pronounced as a long e: It would sound like puh-DEE-uh, which rhymes with the word "tortilla." But Schieffer pronounced the double L portion of his name in a more anglicized manor in last night's broadcast, opting for something along the lines of puh-DILL-uh.

Before you assume Schieffer needs Spanish lessons, let me share with you the backstory – it may convince you that the "Evening News" anchor is not the kind of guy prone to ordering a "tore-TILL-uh" in Mexican restaurants. A few months ago, Donna Newman, Padilla's attorney, announced that the Padilla family actually preferred the non-traditional pronunciation – the puh-DILL-uh one, complete with the "L" sound. You can hear her pronouncing it here. She says it basically the same way that Schieffer did last night.

Members of the press had been pronouncing Padilla's name in the more traditional, rhymes-with-tortilla way for a long time, but when the announcement hit, the Associated Press ran a note on the wires announcing that the puh-DILL-uh pronunciation was the proper one. The AP also sends out a pronunciation guide daily, and it added the new, non-traditional pronunciation to its list of newsworthy names. Also on the list, by the way: Kim Jong Il (kim jawng eel), Lindsay Lohan (LOH'-un), and Ayatollah Khomeini (ah-yah-TOH'-lah hoh-MAY'-nee).

These days, most news organizations pronounce Padilla's name as the AP instructs. The fact that it took so long to get Padilla's preferred pronunciation out there, however, has raised some eyebrows. There are those who just don't buy it: One theory I heard in looking into this story is that the new pronunciation was just a cynical ploy on the part of Newman, Padilla's lawyer, to make him seem more American and garner sympathy. There's also the argument that the mix up is the government's fault: A commenter here remembers liberal Randi Rhodes spending a segment on how "the press had been pronouncing it wrong for over a year because no one was allowed to speak to him to even know."

There's no way to know for sure what's going on here, of course. It is possible that it's a ploy by Newman, but I don't to see any evidence of that – and it's worth noting that the Padilla family settled in Chicago, and that it's not uncommon for Midwestern immigrant families to change the pronunciation of their name. (One commenter here claims that "The Padilla family in the Midwest does not use Spanish pronunciation, just as Texans don't use a Spanish pronunciation of Amarillo.")

By the way, should be interesting if, by odd chance, Schieffer ever has to mention the German poet/dramatist Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. I, for one, am still trying to figure that one out.