For some festive reading -an article from the Economist produced verbatim below. Amazing play on words.
Dec 20th 2012, 15:00 by R.L.G. | NEW YORK
OUR Christmas double issue is out—if you're not a subscriber, this really is the issue you should buy off the newsstand of all the issues of The Economist in a year—and so this blog will go into semi-slumber, with the odd link to something language-related we've read.
In 1987, then an appeals-court judge, he was nominated for the Supreme Court by Ronald Reagan. A staunch conservative, he was relentlessly attacked by liberal senators in a long confirmation battle:
During the fight, the late Ted Kennedy took the Senate floor to describe “Robert Bork’s America,” a charmless, segregated place, an intrusive police state with no recourse to justice. The speech worked, along with a broad public relations campaign to tar Bork as an unacceptable extremist. Reagan described it as a “lynch mob.” It worked. The Senate voted not to confirm Robert Bork, and he resigned his seat on the appeals court the next year. This is what we now understand as a “borking.”
Mr Greeley notes that other names have become short-lived nonce verbs, but "borking" has long outlasted the 1987 fight over the eponymous judge. Why?
Well, with no disrespect to the departed intended—this is pure linguistic analysis—while he was alive, many people simply noted that Bork is "fun to say". But why is it fun to say? First, there aren't many words that end in "-ork", so it's a bit silly-sounding by dint of unfamiliarity:cork, fork (and its derivative portmanteau spork), pork, the American teenage insult dork, and that's about it, unless you remember the Robin Williams comedy show Mork and Mindy. I suspect that the similarity to dork and pork, both of which can have slightly naughty meanings, makes bork fun.
There's also the fact that it seems a little bit like a swear-word. Why is that? Readers offended by a swear-word or twelve, close your browser now.
Steven Pinker has written about the concept of phonetic symbolism—that certain vowels sound big and others sound small, that certain consonants sound sharp-edged and others soft. This is because of these sounds' physical properties: "big" vowels have the tongue lower (making a bigger oral cavity). "Hard" consonants stop the airflow abruptly ("stop" or "plosive" consonants), while soft ones merely disrupt or re-shape it ("fricatives" and "liquids").
The [k] and [g] sounds, Prof Pinker points out, must seem particularly hard, since they're found at the end of an unusual number of vulgar and offensive words. Many feature just one syllable and a short vowel. His list:
fuck, cock, prick, dick, dyke, suck, schmuck, dork, punk, spick, mick, chink, kike, gook, wog, frog, fag
He missed a few others with naughty connotations or worse: suck, lick, jerk, wank, bonk and spunk. Geek, berk and freak are all words that can be used as dismissive insults. With a little more time or the help of Urban Dictionary we could come up with quite a few more.
But this is already long for a holiday post, and more than enough to make the point. Mr Bork's story would have lived on long after him in any case. Few senate hearings can be called "epic", but the effort to stop his reaching the Supreme Court can be fairly described as such, if any can. However, his surname would not have become a byword, much less a lower-case verb, had he been Robert Smith. Journalists just came to like saying bork.