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Walter Leland Mr. Cronkite, R.I.P.

Posted by Jan Freeman, keep until April July 17, 2009 10:21 PM

The news of Walter Cronkite's death at 92 was naturally rushed into print and onto the Web. And the first draft of history, as offered by the Chicago Tribune website, seems to include several instances of what Ben Zimmer has dubbed a Cupertino* error.** The Tribune, like the Globe, apparently uses the courtesy title "Mr." only when you're not around to enjoy it, so an editor must have used search-and-replace to make "Cronkite" into "Mr. Cronkite."

There was some collateral damage.

His last regularly scheduled assignment with CBS News was a 90-second radio segment called "Walter Mr. Cronkite's 20th Century."
Johnson reportedly turned to an aide and said, "If I've lost Mr. Cronkite, I've lost Middle America."
The son and grandson of dentists, he was born Walter Leland Mr. Cronkite Jr. on Nov. 4, 1916, in St. Joseph, Mo.
At home, he was "gregarious," relishing "spinning a one-line joke out into an elaborate shaggy dog story," daughter Kathy Mr. Cronkite once recalled.
Mr. Cronkite's survivors include his son, Walter Mr. Cronkite III, who is known as Chip; and daughters Kathy and Nancy.

I could get used to this form of address; after all, it's no weirder than "Richard, Cardinal Cushing" or "George Gordon, Lord Byron." But I think a daughter might prefer the feminine form: "Kathy, Ms. Cronkite."

*The blog spellchecker, which I have never heard from before, naturally chimed in here to ask whether "Cupertino" should perhaps be Pertinacious, Pertinence, or Pertinacity. That would have been fun ... but no thanks.

** Ben Zimmer corrects me: A Cupertino is an error that starts with the spellchecker, not a mere search-and-replace error like the one that made Tyson Gay into Tyson Homosexual. For more on those, see his Language Log post.

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Rules and realities of English usage from Boston Globe Ideas columnist Jan Freeman.
Jan Freeman, a former Boston Globe editor, has been writing the weekly column The Word since 1997. E-mail her at

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