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Let’s depose the kings of crypto

Let’s depose the kings of crypto
People & Culture
Some readers might infer that 'crypto king' is shorthand for guilty of wrongdoing, fraud, or theft, writes Robert Holloway.
  • The rate of inflation of crypto royalties is too high, writes DL News ombudsman Robert Holloway.
  • While it may be convenient to refer to the likes of Changpeng Zhao and Sam Bankman-Fried as crypto kings, Holloway warns against it.
  • “Clichés work on readers like an anaesthetic.”

Robert Holloway is a columnist and an award-winning ombudsman at DL News. Views expressed are his own.

King Farouk of Egypt, who was overthrown in 1952, joked that only five monarchs would long outlast him: the kings of hearts, clubs, diamonds and spades, and the king of England.

Farouk died in exile in Rome in 1965 and did not live to see the proliferation of crowns bestowed upon crypto chieftains.

In principle, there cannot be more than one king in a realm at any time. In the past two months alone, however, the media have crowned several crypto kings.

The expression can mean different things to different people. By itself, without further information, it is almost meaningless.

A crypto king might be someone who has either acquired an exceptionally large fortune by investing in crypto, founded or run an unusually large or successful crypto company, or made a remarkable innovation in crypto technology.

Headline material

The BBC, CNN, France 24, the Financial Times, the Independent and others described FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried as a crypto king in headlines after his conviction on November 2.

Reuters and the South China Morning Post reported on November 24 that a court in Montenegro had approved the extradition of the South Korean crypto king and one-time fugitive Do Kwon for his role in the collapse of the Terra stablecoin empire in 2022. He had earlier been crowned by the Washington Post.

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Three days later, The Guardian bestowed the title on Changpeng Zhao, former CEO of Binance and now a criminal awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to felony violations of federal banking laws.

This month, Canadian media from CBC to the Toronto Star said the fugitive and self-anointed crypto king Aiden Pleterski had been sighted in Australia.

Investors injected over $35 million into Pleterski’s firm AP Private Equity Limited for cryptocurrency investments, then wondered where their money had ended up.

These are the most recent examples. A member of DL News’ editorial team calculated that at least 20 people have been called crypto kings in print. There is also no shortage of crypto queens.

Bulgarian-born Ruja Ignatova, founder of a pyramid scheme called OneCoin, was included on the FBI’s list of Ten Most Wanted fugitives last year. She is the subject of “The Missing Cryptoqueen,” a book by Jamie Bartlett.

Ignatova now shares her title with the former vice-president of the European Parliament, Eva Kaili. She was arrested on December 9, 2022, and charged with corruption as part of a police investigation into allegations that the government of Qatar tried to bribe EU officials and lawmakers.

A former member of the Greek Socialist party, Kaili was a prominent advocate of cryptocurrencies in the EU Parliament.

A year ago, before Bankman-Fried’s former girlfriend and ex-CEO of his investment firm Alameda Research, Caroline Ellison, testified against him during the trial, a headline in the New York Post said: “King and queen of the crypto con may be turning on each other.”

Crypto journalists are by no means the only ones to use the royal moniker. Sports reporters often hail a champion as the king or queen.

In finance, billionaire Bill Gross has long held the title of bond king.

Tennis player Rafael Nadal is known as the king of clay, the surface on which he was seemingly unbeatable for years. The annual six-nations rugby championship contains within it a contest between the four English-speaking countries for the Triple Crown.

The entertainment industry too has its nobility. Author Stephen King has been named the king of horror.

Kings and queens

Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley shared the king of rock’n’roll moniker. Michael Jackson was the king of pop. Beyonce, Britney Spears, Mariah Carey and others have been rivals of the queen of pop, Madonna.

In crypto, the crown is often acquired only after the wearer has fallen from grace.

Those mentioned at the start of this column were still dubbed kings or queens after they found themselves on the wrong side of the law.

“Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown” observed Shakespeare’s Henry IV, but too few reporters and editors are uneasy about alluding to it.

To call someone king of crypto, or tennis or rock’n’roll, is a cliché, and clichés work on readers like an anaesthetic.

There are significant differences between Bankman-Fried, Zhao, Do Kwon, and Pleterski, as well as Ignatova, Kaili, and Ellison, and between the legal cases brought against them.

To class them all as crypto kings and queens tells a reader nothing useful.

At best, a cliché will irritate some readers and make them want to turn to another article. It can also sometimes sound like euphemism. Some readers might infer that “crypto king” is shorthand for guilty of wrongdoing, fraud, or theft.

Reporters and editors should use their imagination to try to find an alternative expression.

If they succeed, they will inevitably improve their prose; if they do not, deleting the cliché will certainly not harm it.

Do some expressions particularly irritate you? If so, you can share them with me at