Obama Abroad

by John Derbyshire

So I’m in the local diner waiting for a takeout order, just standing there by the counter waiting. The diner is of course run by Greeks. A guy, possibly the proprietor, is sitting on a stool at the counter in front of me reading a newspaper. The geometry of the situation is such that I can read it over his shoulder in a non-embarrassing way. The newspaper is all in Greek.

I can’t read Greek at all, but I know the alphabet. So with nothing better to do, I am idly spelling out the headlines to myself. (A very low form of intellectual activity, I’ll admit, right down there close to thinking about nothing at all, but my brain gets tired pondering Quantitative Easing all day long.)

One of the headlines, over a picture of the President in India, contains a word made up of an omicron, a mu, a pi, an alpha, another mu, and another alpha. Ompama.

Here’s my question: What’s up with that mu-pi where, it seems to me, there ought to be a beta?

I put my Radio Derb research assistants on this, and Mandee came up with this. It still doesn’t compute though. According to that, the mu-pi business is for the beginning of words.

Anybody know what’s going on here? I’d hate to think our President was having his name misrepresented in foreign orthographies. (In Chinese he’s Ao-ba-ma, which is as close as they can get.)