Wednesday, February 16, 2005

First use of verb to fisk

I was browsing the LGF dictionary. (I actually enjoy browsing dictionaries in general--you're getting a sense of my inner nerd here.)

For those who are interested, the LGF dictionary gives a good sense of the character of the LGF community as well as some insight into the lingo of the self-named anti-idiotarian wing of the blogging community.

I started with the word fisking. The LGF FAQ defines fisking as follows:
It's derived from Robert Fisk... and refers to a point-by-point debunking of the kind of lies and/or idiocies written by those of the Robert Fisk persuasion.
The LGF dictionary, which notes that the term fisking probably did not originate on LGF (as several other terms did), cites the above definition and also adds that the first documented use of fisking on LGF was
[John B. 5/21/2002 11:00AM]. The casualness with which John B. used the term makes it seem likely he expected people to already be familiar with its meaning.
If that was in fact the term's first use on LGF, then the term indeed did not originate there. Instapundit, Tim Blair, and a Free Republic commenter used the term about six months earlier.

Via Google and some helpful e-mailers, I found a little more about the term's history:
  • Dec. 5, 2001: Free Republic commenter "sheik yerbouty" used the term fisking ("More Arab 'Fisking' ") in reference to a Robert Fisk article on the terrorism. There was no implied meaning of a point-by-point debunking.
  • Dec. 10, 2001 (This is the date on the Independent's web site. I suspect it was actually published earlier since Andrew Sullivan's critique of the piece appeared on Dec. 9.): British journalist Robert Fisk reported being sympathetic to a band of Afghans who attacked him:
    They started by shaking hands. We said "Salaam aleikum" – peace be upon you – then the first pebbles flew past my face. A small boy tried to grab my bag. Then another. Then someone punched me in the back. Then young men broke my glasses, began smashing stones into my face and head. I couldn't see for the blood pouring down my forehead and swamping my eyes. And even then, I understood. I couldn't blame them for what they were doing. In fact, if I were the Afghan refugees of Kila Abdullah, close to the Afghan-Pakistan border, I would have done just the same to Robert Fisk. Or any other Westerner I could find.
  • Dec. 9, 2001: Andrew Sullivan wrote "The Pathology of Robert Fisk," a line-by-line critique of Fisk's piece.
  • Dec. 15, 2001: The seeds of fisking were in place, if not the term. Instapundit's Glenn Reynolds wrote,
    MARK STEYN ADDS THIS ESSAY to the many lampooning the appropriately self-loathing Robert Fisk.
  • Dec. 19, 2001: Aussie blogger Tim Blair became the first blogger (the first I've encountered, anyway) to use the term:
    He deserves a righteous kicking, and I think Natalie might be first in line with the Fisking boots.
    Note that Blair's use of the term referred to getting physically pommelled--as Robert Fisk reported happened to him.
  • Dec. 24, 2001: Reynolds used the term. With Reynolds' use of the term its meaning was moving from physical pommelling to its current sense of oratorical pommelling:
    ...the holiday season afflicted me with too much charity and cheerfulness to give her the sound Fisking that she so richly deserved.
    Note that, like the the LGF commenter cited above, Reynolds used the term casually as if it were already known in the blogosphere.
  • Mar. 29, 2002: Reynolds used the term again: "NOW SIMBERG IS FISKING FISK."

  • Aug. 10, 2002: Reynolds called fisking a "popular blogosphere term" and linked to a definition of the term by Eugene Volokh. Unfortunately, the Volokh link appears to be dead, but Reynolds also quoted the definition:
    Volokh also provides a superb definition of the popular Blogosphere term "Fisking:" "a thorough and forceful verbal beating of an anti-war, possibly anti-American, commentator who has richly earned this figurative beating through his words." Couldn't have said it better myself.

    Volokh also neatly capsulizes the history of the term: "The term refers to Robert Fisk, a journalist who wrote some rather foolish anti-war stuff, and who in particular wrote a story in which he (1) recounted how he was beaten by some anti-American Afghan refugees, and (2) thought they were morally right for doing so."
  • Nov. 21, 2003: Reynolds cited two more definitions of the term:
    I like this definition:
    fisking: n.
    [blogosphere; very common] A point-by-point refutation of a blog entry or (especially) news story. A really stylish fisking is witty, logical, sarcastic and ruthlessly factual; flaming or handwaving is considered poor form. Named after Robert Fisk, a British journalist who was a frequent (and deserving) early target of such treatment. See also MiSTing, anti-idiotarianism.
    There's also this one:
    verb. To deconstruct an article on a point by point basis in a highly critical manner. Derived from the name of journalist Robert Fisk, a frequent target of such critical articles in the blogosphere (qv).
    So there you are. A recent article in The Spectator misused the term, suggesting that "Fisking" is something that Robert Fisk does. That's not the standard usage, though.
Does anyone out there know any early use of fisk as a verb? Let me know.
Note: This post has been updated when I have found earlier citations.

Update: Related posts here, here and here.

Thanks for the link, Zom.