The Independent should be ashamed of itself/Ich bin ein Berliner

I’ve discussed this before here (2008) but it refuses to die the death. People just love believing funny stories. Today The Independent exhumed it again:

Errors and omissions: How a wrong translation became the great Berlin bake-off

Except that he didn’t. Giles Cooper writes in from north London to confirm what an old friend with a degree in German told me long ago. Kennedy, or his speech writer, got it wrong. “Ich bin ein Berliner” means “I am a doughnut” (that is, a particular kind of German doughnut known as a Berliner). The German for “I am a Berliner” (meaning a person from Berlin) has no indefinite article. Kennedy should have said, “Ich bin Berliner.” But everybody is familiar with the words he actually said – so for headline purposes “Ich bin ein Berliner” has become correct.

No, it is not good enough to quote ‘Giles Cooper’ (who is he?) or ‘an old friend with a degree in German’, (on the lines of What do they call a person who passed his medical exams by 1 per cent: ‘Dr’).

Fortunately Peter Harvey has done a good dissection – and he isn’t even in Germany! It’s that myth again

It is always possible for someone else with a better knowledge of German to know otherwise, or for anyone at all to check the facts on the internet. Sadly, that is not the worst we get from the Independent. In a nod to truth and research the article concludes:

It is only fair to add that Wikipedia, in its most solemn American fact-checking mode, dismisses what it calls the “jelly doughnut misconception”, maintaining that what Kennedy said was correct all along. But why spoil a good story?

Yes indeed. If you’re a British journalist, why should you allow ‘solemn fact-checking’ to spoil a good story?

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