Donald Trump has been hitting the headlines for all the wrong reasons recently. I do not want to go into the controversies swirling in his wake here; instead, I want to take a closer look at something he said recently at a reception organized by the Republican Hindu Coalition in New Jersey (see the Buzzfeed meme above). What did he mean when he said "I am a big fan of Hindu"? Perhaps he meant to say "I am a big fan of Hindus" or "I am a big fan of Hinduism." On Twitter, wags had a field day. Tim O'Brien tweeted "Trump just invented a new country," and journalist Sowmiya Ashok let fly with "Trump's a big fan of Hindu which is of course my former employer," a reference to the venerable newspaper The Hindu.
Trump's gaffe reminded me of a similar error I spotted many years ago in a popular book published in 2008, The Economic Naturalist: Why Economics Explains Almost Everything by Robert H. Frank, currently an economics professor at Cornell. In the book, Frank answers the following question from Chris Anderson:
"Why have Hindu-language movies attracted a large audience in recent years"?
I was taken aback, but thought it was a misprint: "Hindu" instead of "Hindi." The first is an adherent of Hinduism, and the second is the most widely spoken language in India. They are … well, different.
But then Robert Frank's answer makes it clear that he actually thinks (or in all probability, he has wised up by now) "Hindu" denotes a language. The following occur in Robert Frank's reply: "Hindu-language movie title," "Hindu film," and "Hindu comedy." Thrice!
Robert Frank apparently paraphrased Chris Anderson's question from a book the latter wrote in 2006 called The Long Tail. Chris Anderson was the editor-in-chief of Wired magazine from 2001 to 20012. As far as I can tell from poking around on the Net, Anderson used "Hindi-language film" in his book, so the error is entirely Frank's. Wikipedia tells me Anderson is British by birth; no Britisher would make such a mistake. I wonder who copyedited the book: this is a flagrant error that should have been caught and corrected before it went into print.
In sum, perhaps we should not be too harsh on Trump. When an American college professor can confuse "Hindu" with "Hindi," Trump may be excused. 🙂
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