Robert B0rk: A man of his word

The resignation of Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O’Connor has produced a flurry of stories about Robert Bork — the jurist whose Supreme candidacy was shot down in 1987 after critics argued he was too nuttily right-wing, would likely repeal Roe v. Wade, and didn’t think a right to privacy existed. My favorite recent article about Bork is short column in last week’s New York Times, in which Bork revealed that he really digs the fact that “borked” has become a figure of speech. As the Times reported:

… Mr. Bork said he had found some satisfaction in his defeat. He noted that “Borking” is now used as a verb meaning “to attack with unfair means,” he said. “To have your name become a verb is to achieve a certain form of immortality.”

Heh. The thing is, I’m not sure Bork is correct about what “borked” really means.

As far as I can tell, “borked” is more often used merely to say that something is totally broken and busted — partly because of the association with Bork’s flame-out, partly because “Bork” is a near anagram and homonym of “broke”, and, perhaps most of all because “bork” is an awesomely onomateopiac word. Indeed, there are several entries at The Urban Dictionary with variations on this theme, including:

1. borked

To have totally fucked something up. Usually by doing something stupid. Specifically used to describe technology that is broken.

Example 1….
Admin: I totally borked my machine installing Win XP SP2.

Example 2….

“I can’t come over at the moment…my car is borked”.

Of course, since “borked” is so frequently used to described busted technology, it’s even tranformed into a piece of alphanumeric l33tspeak — as in Boing Boing’s frequent use of “b0rked”.

Interestingly, back during Watergate, Bork’s name was used as a verb in an entirely different context. Bork was Solicitor General for Richard Nixon, and Nixon demanded that Bork fire Watergate Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox after Cox requested access to tapes of Oval Office conversations. The firing was known as the “Saturday Night Massacre”, and, as Wikipedia notes …

In the years after the Saturday Night Massacre, a well-known joke said that “borking” was “firing a man for doing exactly what he was hired to do” (i.e. Judge Bork had “borked” Archibald Cox, whose job had been to investigate criminal activities in the Nixon White House).

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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