Finding a little levity in the news has been difficult in 2020, to say the least.
We’re in the midst of a global pandemic, a highly-charged political atmosphere, and we’ve already had nine named tropical storms or hurricanes as of the beginning of August. As such, finding “good news” stories to share can be challenging when you’re wading through so many troublesome headlines.
So it was surprising that one of our favorite stories of the year so far didn’t come from a happy event or a celebration, but stemmed from a hurricane.
Though Hurricane Isaias hurt and heavily impacted our neighbors to the south, making landfall in Ocean Isle Beach, N.C., on August 3, the storm brought two pieces of good news for the Outer Banks. For one thing, the Outer Banks was mostly spared from the impacts of the storm, with only minor soundside flooding reported on northern Hatteras Island, and for another, it introduced us all to the term “Corncrake.”
In case you haven’t been on social media in the past week or so, here’s a quick synopsis of the story behind this new addition to our vernacular.
The Weather Channel was covering the arrival and impacts of Hurricane Isaias during the height of the storm, because that’s what The Weather Channel does. Well, sometime during the nonstop coverage, a mysterious ticker popped up at the bottom of the screen, stating that “More than 1,500 vehicles [were] ferried off Corncrake Island, NC.”
And the internet rejoiced.
Locals and longtime Outer Banks visitors quickly figured out that Corncrake Island was a very creative misspelling of Ocracoke Island, which is a locale that, unfortunately, has had its named mangled quite a bit.
The actual origin of the name “Ocracoke” is still lightly debated, and the name has been adjusted and misspelled for literal centuries.
The earliest record of the island’s name was identified on a map made by English explorer John White in 1585, which refers to the adjacent inlet as “Wokokon.” (Subsequent spellings in the centuries that followed included “Woccocock,” “Oakacock” and “Okercock.”)
Reportedly, the name derives from the Woccon tribe of Native Americans, who generally lived on the mainland, but who established fishing and hunting outposts on the island. Eventually, the many names were combined, and the inlet, the island, and the village itself now all carry the name of Ocracoke.
Simply put, misspelling or mispronouncing Ocracoke is certainly nothing new. And, full disclosure, I’ve been guilty of an embarrassing typo on more than one occasion – just not in front of a national audience.
Case in point, several years ago, there was a storm that was officially named “Potential Tropical Cyclone #10” at the time, which was gradually getting closer to the Outer Banks. As such, we posted a story about the approach, where I used the headline “Potential Tropical Cyclone 10 inches closer to the Outer Banks.”
I meant to use “inches” as a verb, and not as a term of measurement, and didn’t even notice the problem. But boy, the internet sure did figure it out, and everyone was amazed at how accurate the measurement of hurricane movements had become!
So referring to Ocracoke as Corncrake isn’t a huge transgression, and the occasional editorial error is something we’ve all been guilty of.
But because it’s 2020, and because fun news is sparse, I think it’s appropriate to take a moment to identify the many, many, many ways that social media, the internet, and local businesses and organizations have taken this gaffe and ran with it to delightful results.
First, here’s the tongue-in-cheek Twitter post by The Weather Channel, noting their mistake.
#Corncrake Island’s forecast:
Cloudy with a chance of some bad autocorrect. We’ll get it right next time, Okracat, er, we mean Orcakite… We give up 😉 https://t.co/NSXG6TCgxN
— The Weather Channel (@weatherchannel) August 5, 2020
The N.C. Ferry Division also got in on the fun, referring to Corncrake when announcing the return of ferry service after Hurricane Isaias exited the area.
Then came the local businesses and artists. Moonraker Tea Shop in Ocracoke recently announced that they designed a new sticker and potential T-shirt, featuring the now legendary “Corncrake,” (which is actually a bird), as the star attraction.
Meanwhile, artists such as Alex Lex, known for funny but deceiving photoshopped images, paid tribute to the “corn” reference in the island’s new moniker, and many others joined in the creativity. Here are just a few examples of their handiwork:
But in the end, perhaps the best aspect of the rise of Corncrake Island is that it has the potential to do a world of good for Ocracoke Island.
Ocracoke was devastated by Hurricane Dorian in September of 2019, with record-setting flooding that destroyed the majority of structures on the island. An estimated 80% of businesses and homes on the island were temporarily lost after Dorian hit.
Months later, the island is still immersed in clean-up efforts and is trying to get back to pre-storm normal, and during the extensive recovery process, “Ocracoke Strong” was launched in an effort to help the island get back on its feet.
“This is how #OCRACOKESTRONG was born.” states the organization’s website. “A t-shirt [printer] on the island had extra shirts and printed them and [gave] them to locals and volunteers on the island”
“There was such a demand for the shirts from people all over – after seeing them everyone wanted one. So we came up with the idea to sell them and use the 100% of the proceeds to benefit the local elderly people on the island with helping them get back to where they were before the hurricane. Most had no flood insurance and lost everything and many of their homes had to be torn down.”
“So we wanted to do something more personal for them by [giving] them a wish list and providing them with what they need or want.”
Ocracoke Strong gear is still available via the website, https://ocracokestrong.com/, but now folks who want to help the island – and receive a cool little memento in the process – can also order new Corncrake stickers and T-shirts.
Available for pre-order, the Corncrake stickers quickly became a hit just hours after they were introduced to the world.
Corncrake Gear – including the newly launched stickers and shirts – continues to be available via https://ocracokestrong.com/, and all proceeds go to help islanders in need.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why the rise of Corncrake was so contagious, and why a minor error took the internet by storm. Maybe it’s because “Corncrake” is one of the more creative spellings of Ocracoke in recent memory, or maybe it’s just because we’re all a little desperate for something to smile about.
But in any case, cheers to the introduction of Corncrake into our vocabulary, and to everyone who kept this new word on the top of our social media feeds through creative and hilarious ways. We all could use a little joy in 2020, so the vial rise of Corncrake was an unusual surprise that certainly brightened our news cycle.