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The way to say those tricky VIP names

Mispronouncing them can be a grievous faux pas.

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In the delicate world of diplomatic protocol, mispronouncing a foreign leader's name ranks among the worst of faux pas. But that is lost on many Americans.

Who can forget Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's verbal gymnastics after being asked by Tim Russert to name the new president of Russia? Most transcripts cleaned it up as "Medvedev – whatever."

Or recall the guffawing last September after a draft of President Bush's speech before the United Nations included the phonetic spellings of several names of foreign places and leaders. Among them: Harare (hah-RAR-ray) and Mugabe (moo-GAH-bee).

At a time when the United States is trying to improve its image abroad, mangling the names of foreign dignitaries does not help. Nowhere is this issue more sensitive than at the United Nations, where diplomats view the mispronunciation of names as a subtle if passive-aggressive form of UN bashing.

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