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Words that start with L are confusing

Libya in 1986 or Lebanon in 2006? (Photo by Amelia Opalinska.)

Libya in 1986 or Lebanon in 2006? (Photo by Amelia Opalinska.)

According to Lebanon-based researcher Franklin Lamb, the opening words of US Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to Beirut yesterday consisted of: “I am happy to be in Libya… I mean Lebanon… this morning!” The confusion was not reported by other media outlets but is nonetheless plausible based on the fact that both nations contain a city called Tripoli.

Lebanon-Libya mix-ups are by no means a novel occurrence. One such mix-up occurred in 2006 among a group of British tourists on the Turkish Mediterranean coast, where the information that I had just been traveling in Lebanon was met with the indignant rejoinder: “But they bombed our plane!” Following a frantic scan of mental archives, I finally determined that the plane in question was Pan Am flight 103, and that Lockerbie also started with L. Iran, however, did not—nor did the USS Vincennes, which had shot down an Iranian airliner with 290 civilians on board shortly before the Lockerbie bombing.