< To Bork


Friday, September 16, 2005

BROOKE GLADSTONE: As we watch a major political event, we naturally consider political language. And in recent years, the singular locution to come out of a Senate confirmation hearing for Supreme Court Judge is "to Bork."

FRANK SESNO: "To Bork" means what?

ROBERT BORK: I think to attack a person's reputation and views unfairly.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: That was Robert Bork, erstwhile Supreme Court nominee, speaking to CNN's Frank Sesno in July. His nomination went up in flames in 1987. The process whereby has since been dubbed "Borking," especially by the political right, which essentially owns the word, defined by Webster's, to wit: "Bork: to seek to obstruct a political appointment or selection, also to attack a political opponent viciously." Not so, say the liberals. In the Washington Post, Stephanie Cutter, an aide to Senator Edward Kennedy, declared, "If 'Borked' means fulfilling your constitutional duty by protecting the rights and freedoms of the American people, then every Senator should wear that as a badge of honor." And it should be noted that if Bork himself was the proto Borkee, then during his confirmation hearings, Kennedy was the uhr--Borker. Many personal names have fathered nouns. There's "boycott" and "Braille," "diesel," "dunce," "maverick" and "stroganoff" and all those compound words like "Ponzi scheme" and "Pullman car," "Hobson's choice" and "graham cracker." Adjectives are similarly abundant: "Darwinian," "Orwellian," "Draconian," "Kafkaesque" or "sadistic." But when it came to verbs, we could scarcely find one without the suffix "ize," as in "galvanize" or "mesmerize," "bowdlerize" or "pasteurize." Was there another name, just a name, like Bork, with no grammatical frippery that was ever used as a verb? In recent history, we could find only one, to "Bobbitt," which means to cut off a man's penis, named for Lorena Bobbitt, who, Webster reminds us, did such to her abusive husband in 1994. Now, Bork sees himself as a victim of injustice and "to Bork" as a monument to martyrdom.

ROBERT BORK: My name became a verb, and I regard that as one form of immortality.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: I don't know if John Bobbitt feels that way, but I do foresee another neologism coming out of the hearings now underway, "to Roberts," to slide smoothly through confirmation like a speed swimmer with no body hair, or at the very least a nominee with no - beard.

SEN. HOWELL HEFLIN: Would you like to give us an explanation relative to the beard? [MUSIC UP AND UNDER]

ROBERT BORK: Yes, I would. It's a very unromantic explanation. In 1968 69 academic year, I was on sabbatical leave in England with my family. I was writing a book. It was an anti trust book, and you may ask why I chose to write it in England. The answer is the alternative was to write it in New Haven. [AUDIENCE LAUGHTER] We went on a canal boat trip, and the in the bathroom the sink was right against the wall, so when you tried to shave, unless you shaved with your left hand, I couldn't do it. And for about a week