"Cronkiter" debunkorama!

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It started off, simply enough, as a comment by Language Log reader Lugubert, who questioned a linguafactoid reported in the Associated Press obituary for Walter Cronkite: that in Sweden and Holland, news anchors are (or were) called "Cronkiters." I investigated the claim in my Word Routes column on the Visual Thesaurus, which led to an appearance on the NPR show "On the Media" over the weekend.

Earlier today, in an admirable display of media self-criticism, the Associated Press set the record straight in an article by the very same reporter who filed the Cronkite obituary. (The AP also issued a formal correction.) And from all this, I've somehow ended up as Keith Olbermann's second best person in the world today — just edged out by some entertaining crackpot whose faulty Bible translation "proves" that Obama is the Antichrist. It's been a fun ride, but I think the debunkorama is finally drawing to a close.


  1. Jonathan Lundell said,

    August 5, 2009 @ 10:57 pm

    Re 'cronkiters', isn't 'cronkiter' already a plural in Swedish?

  2. Yuval said,

    August 6, 2009 @ 2:21 am

    Huh? Bamah really is "a high place", it's used to describe the altars of the shrines in Samaria for example. Whether Baraq meant lightning in biblical times is something I'm not sure of, but so far have thought to be true. So what was that #1 guy debunking?

  3. bulbul said,

    August 6, 2009 @ 3:34 am


    the rooq brq (Strong 01299) does mean "to cast a lightning". The name Baraq (the son of Abinoam of Kedesh, Judges 4:6) is derived from this root and translated as "lightning" or "lightning flash"
    Trouble is, Obama's first name is almost certainly derived from a different root.

  4. Kellen said,

    August 6, 2009 @ 4:36 am

    for what it's worth, "ברק" shows up as lightning in my dictionary. "במה" is also definitely a high place.

    maybe I'm using the wrong root. it's been ages since i've taken a Hebrew class.

  5. bulbul said,

    August 6, 2009 @ 4:42 am

    Oy, Olbermann (full disclosure: I watch his program religiously) screwed up. He cites Strong's concordance, but whoever wrote this for him got it wrong – the claim that Baraq means "an Israelite" is apparently the result of a misreading of Strong's 01301 (as cited here) "Baraq, an Israelite" as two separate definitions. Oops.
    But whaddya know, Strong does indeed give "wave" as one of the meanings of bamah.

  6. Benjamin Zimmer said,

    August 6, 2009 @ 6:58 am

    You can read more about the Bible translation silliness on Salon, as well as PaleoBabble, The Aramaic Blog, and Snopes. Note that Olbermann calls this the "best new wing-nut conspiracy theory," so his standards for "bestness" are rather far-ranging.

  7. J. W. Brewer said,

    August 6, 2009 @ 1:27 pm

    This is at least a little more scholarly, in a crackpot kind of way, than Ronald Wilson Reagan = 666. But I would assume that somewhere out there there's a standard scholarly conjecture or range of conjectures that existed prior to this controversy as to what Aramaic sentence spoken by Jesus (or attributed to him in early oral tradition, accurately or otherwise) might lie behind the Greek of Luke 10:18 (which might or might not be the same as the wording in the extant Aramaic text we have, itself generally thought to be translated from the Greek)? Shouldn't the debunkers just point directly to that Aramaic wording (which either does or does not sort of sound like the President's name, and if it does is either a result of coincidental homophones or isn't) rather than just start rooting around in Strong's?

  8. Sili said,

    August 6, 2009 @ 2:09 pm

    Mark Chu-Carroll did a debunking too (via Pharyngula). He has a lot of experience with tearing into silly Gematria claims.

  9. Lane said,

    August 6, 2009 @ 5:21 pm

    Congrats Ben! Second best person in the whole world. Why didn't they get proper linguists for the number-one slot, too?

    As I believe I learned right here on Language Log last year or just before, "lightning" comes from a different root – ברק – than the root that is cognate to "Barack". This first root is actually what Ehud Brog used to Hebraize his last name, changing it to Barak. The equivalent Arabic root is ب ر ق.

    The second, – ברכ – yields Hebrew "Baruch", cognate to Arabic ب ر ك "baraka", which through Swahili gave us the name Barack. All these are "blessing" or "blessed" in some form or another (and this group includes Hosni Mubarak's last name, too.)

  10. Kellen said,

    August 6, 2009 @ 5:50 pm

    Ehud Barak spelled his name ברק. Obama's name in Hebrew is ברק אובמה. so while I agree ברכ makes more sense given the Arabic from which his name originally came, it appears that's not actually the case.

  11. Faldone said,

    August 8, 2009 @ 6:59 am

    The debunkorama ain't over till Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me apologizes for using the Cronkiter story as the correct answer for one of its news quiz questions.

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