Sauce Castillo & The Mondegreen

April 8, 2015

Nik Stauskas is still coming to terms with his new nickname — and how he got it.  The NBA rookie has gone from Sacramento Kings bench-warmer to full-on marketing sensation in a week, all because of a little misunderstanding.

Kings coach George Karl put Stauskas into a game last week against the lowly Philadelphia 76ers. When Stauskas took his first shot, those watching on TV noticed the broadcast’s closed captioning system having some trouble with his name.  Nik Stauskas somehow became — in white text at the top of the screen — Sauce Castillo.

People watching at home caught it right away.  It was funny.  It became a thing.   And just last night, Kings fans celebrated Sauce Castillo Night in Sacramento.  It’s only a matter of time before they change the name on the back of his jersey.

Sauce Castillo is the latest example of what I call “The Anxiety of Inference” — our assumption that we can count on the systems we’ve built to infer what we mean to say and do.

Machine learning and predictive analytics have become so sophisticated, we expect our phones will guess our next word before we type it, our cars will know where we’re going before we put it in the nav, our restaurants will know what we want to eat before we order it.  If you’re a smartphone, car or restaurant, that’s a lot of pressure.

When it comes to failed inference, Damn You Autocorrect is by far the champ.  An infinite collection of smartphones’ hilarious mistaken presumptions, the site’s become a rabbit hole for all of us who appreciate the beauty of computers who — try as they may — don’t quite understand us yet.

To be fair, human beings can be just as guilty.  This VH1 site is dedicated to how much we’ve misunderstood our favorite songs.  And Jimmy Fallon’s new show, Lip Sync Battle (Thursdays 10pm/9c on Spike TV), is filled with big stars pouring their hearts into live performances of their favorite songs — sometimes with mistaken lyrics.

When a word is misheard or misinterpreted, whether by human or computer, it creates new meaning, and that’s called a mondegreen.  Here are some clsssic examples:

Infographic: Top Most Commonly Misunderstood Lyrics in Music

Sometimes we commit so completely to our misunderstanding of a song’s lyrics — even after we’ve been corrected — we can’t imagine the song any other way.  That’s called mumpsimus.

A few years ago, I gave a talk called The Poetry of Misunderstanding. I argued that mishearing, misremembering and misunderstanding sometimes lead to magical consequences.  The idea that the new thing that’s created when something gets lost in translation…is sometimes more beautiful, exciting and profound than the original thing we misunderstood.

Holden Caufield’s misinterpretation Robert Burns’ poem, Comin’ Thro The Rye, lies at the heart of The Catcher In The Rye.  Jimi Hendrix loved misquoted lyrics of his songs so much, he often performed them that way in concert.  And then there’s the famous mistranscription of Fall Out Boy’s hit song, Sugar We’re Doing Down, which I’d argue makes the song infinitely more enjoyable.

Now technology has given us another reason to laugh and celebrate, this time in the form of an unremarkable, unwitting rookie from the Sacramento Kings, who may never achieve a thing on the court, but who shall live on forever as… a sauce.


Yossi Vardi Attempts To Beat Kobe Bryant

September 1, 2009 — 0

Ok, we all saw Kobe Bryant “jump” over an Aston Martin. In case you missed it…

Most people knew it was fake. But world famous entrepreneur and hi-tech guru Yossi Vardi, stubborn Israeli that he is, decided to try it himself anyway. If Kobe could do it, he bragged, so could a man twice Kobe’s age, with a little more meat on his bones. So he did, and this, unfortunately, is what happened…


The Most Pathetic Slam Dunk In History

July 28, 2009 — 1

I’m on this conference call right now and it seems pretty obvious that what I thought was a done deal is actually not gonna happen. Makes me think about the perils of overconfidence. And my own limitations.

I remember when Julian Wright of Kansas stole the ball, had the whole court to himself, went up for the dunk and then…

… I guess sometimes it doesn’t work out like you were so sure it would.


“I Want to Dunk”

May 30, 2009 — 0

“Hi, my name is Joel Lava, and I want to dunk.”  That’s how Joel’s quest began, on March 18th, 2007. He was 37 years old, 6’2″ and 200 lbs. (I can relate, minus 2 years and few inches.)

Joel worked hard, trained daily, experimented with different techniques. The guy was committed. He documented every step forward, every step back, and every step in between. He improved his vertical leap, and he almost dunked.

Then Joel’s wife gave birth to their beautiful daughter…and Joel suspended his journey to dunkville.

You gotta love this guy. I think we need a broader platform where we can follow stories like Joel’s. Biggest Loser has us all ready for some raw aspiration like Joel’s. Is there any better antidote to pro athletes doping than the sisyphean struggle of a white guy on a mission to dunk?

Here at work, new shows like The Buried Life give me hope. In the series, which premieres in a few weeks, four guys put off college for a year and set out together in an RV to accomplish the things they want to do before they die. Everytime they get help from a stranger, they’ve got to help someone new accomplish something they’ve always wanted to do.

I don’t know if Joel Lava will ever dunk. But Joel, if you’re reading this between diaper changes, will you try again?