< To Bork


Friday, December 21, 2012

BOB GARFIELD:  Robert Heron Bork died this week. Mr. Bork is probably best known as a legal scholar and a US Circuit Court Judge who, for just a few months, was thrust into the spotlight when he was nominated for the Supreme Court back in July, 1987. But he's also known, as Brooke observed a few years back, for being a verb.

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 a 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. 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 err - 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:  And 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.


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