[Lawrence] even detects a dark sense of humor in bin Laden's writings. "In one of the translations, he talks about Uncle Sam. In Arabic, Uncle Sam is 'Amm Sam' — it rhymes, you see. The Arabic word samm means poison, and an uncle, in Arabic, is supposed to be someone you can trust."
Wow — who knew that the Evil One was an inveterate punster? In fact, OBL's insulting wordplay is right in line with hoary Near Eastern tradition, which likes to find negative meanings in the names of supposedly bad folk. One might mention, among several examples from the Hebrew Bible, the name Jezebel, Heb. iyzevel, probably originally containing a reference to zevul, "prince," a title of Baal. But the wicked queen's name was pronounced so as to recall the word zevel, "dung." In rabbinic times, the failed rebel Simon Bar Kosiba was referred to as Bar Koziba, "son of the liar" (after having been known more positively as Bar Kokhba, "son of the star").
The words themselves in "uncle poison" have interesting Semitic connections, as well. Arabic amm is cognate to Hebrew עם, am, "people." Hebrew has generally lost all connection to the supposedly primitive significance of the word, which is, as in Arabic, "paternal uncle." But there are a few personal names in ancient Israel that retain the meaning; e.g., Ammishaddai (Num. 1:12) probably means "Shaddai (the Almighty) is my uncle." (If the culture had stayed on this track, we might now be talking about the "unclehood" of God, instead of His "fatherhood.")
The word "poison" (Arabic samm) is, I surmise, a loanword from Aramaic. In the North-West Semitic dialects, sam(m) means "spice" (Biblical Hebrew, as in Ex. 25:6, etc.), "medicine" (post-Biblical Hebrew, as in m.Yoma 8:6), "paint," "dye," "fluid," "drug," etc. Aramaic sources use the expression samma de-mota, "death drug" for "poison," and this latter meaning, with the headword only, was borrowed by Arabic speakers (just as English speakers borrowed the meaning and headword chef of the French expression chef de cuisine, "head cook").
Can't we come up with a good retort? Like "Osama bin Rotten," or the like?
UPDATE: Michael Gilleland has a crappy followup.