Update: Just after posting the item below I learned of the death of William Safire, who for three decades wrote the NYT Mag's language column, among his voluminous other works. Sorry for a querulous-seeming note under the circumstances. On the other hand, this is the kind of distinction that Safire himself reveled in. My condolences to his family.
There is a big risk in writing items on the lines of: "Everybody thinks X, but everybody's wrong. Actually Y is correct." The risk is that, as the corrector, you can be wrong yourself. I know! I've been there before, and no doubt will be again.
Unfortunately, I think that the estimable Jack Rosenthal of the NYT, in today's "Language" column in the magazine, is there too. Most of the column is devoted to correcting widely-practiced misuses of "phantonym" terms -- "disinterested" to mean bored (wrong) rather than impartial (right), etc. I'm with him on all of these! Then he adds this multilingual note:
"The Japanese love besuboru, reflecting the phonetic phenomenon of lallation, reversing "r" and "l." "
Not really. Rather, in keeping with my opening note of caution: to the best of my knowledge and experience, this is incorrect. Japanese fans of the Hiroshima Carp or the Nippon Ham Fighters do indeed refer to the sport as either besoboru or, more formally, 野球, yakyu. But they don't say besoboru because they are switching Ls and Rs. They say it because the Japanese language does not have the L sound. Where English speakers would use either L or R, the Japanese language has only R.*
Therefore when Japanese people speak English, they often have trouble with Ls and may even "lallate," mixing up Ls and Rs. Much as English speakers, raised in a language with no gender, often mix up le/la or der/die/das in gendered languages like French or German. But when they're speaking Japanese, they say besoboru because that's the way their language works. (And if Rosenthal meant that the change wasn't caused by lallation but simply illustrated the use of an R where there had been an L -- OK. But it's still a bad illustration, since both Ls and Rs in English will become Rs in Japanese. Saying that it illustrates lallation implies that Rs would become Ls in Japanese -- Balaku Obama, etc. That doesn't happen.)
OTOH, a very nice homage to one of my long-time Atlantic friends and colleagues in the Cox-Rathvon acrostic in the same magazine today, and a lot of unusually elegant clues. Check it out.
* Primer on Japanese sound system here and here. As anyone who has studied the language knows, its syllabary has the ra / ri / ru / re / ro sequence of R sounds, but nothing involving Ls.
Foreign words are often brought directly into Japanese and and converted to Japanese phonetics -- in contrast to Chinese, where the concept behind the foreign word is often re-rendered in Chinese. Thus "computer" is konpyuta (コンピュータ) in Japanese, but dian nao, "electric brain," (电脑), in Chinese. And thus in China I had a whole invented Chinese name with little relation to my original name, whereas in Japan, within the limits of Japanese sounds, my last name became ファローズ, Fuarohzu.