Friday, June 10, 2005

Fisking "Fisking"

My friends at the Kesher Talk Blog, in an item very kindly making reference to some of my recent posts, used a term that I have seen quite a bit lately: "fisk." The context was that I had "fisked" Christopher Hitchens in a recent item.

Not being familiar with the term, I did some research. Samizdata.net defined it thusly:
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).

Further explanation came from Kairosnews.org:
just as "boycott" derives not from something that the evil English landlord Captain Boycott did, but rather what the Irish villagers did to him, so too "fisk" *does not refer to what Fisk does, but rather what is done unto him*. In the blogosphere, some feel motivated to respond to Fisk's writing by refuting him in minute detail -- often repeating long chunks or the entirety of his articles, and interlineating their challenges.

So, let me see if I understand this correctly. In order to "fisk" some particular piece of writing, it must be a particularly loathsome piece of journalism. Not mere hack work, but something several shades worse. It must be distasteful, odious, miserable stuff.

That being the case, I believe that the term "fisk" does not adequately describe the activity involved. The problem lies in the definitions copied above. To "fisk" does not necessarily mean to "respond" to what is written. Both that term and "analyze" tend to dignify what is involved in "fisking," which is to work one's way through a particularly horrendous piece of writing--or a piece of writing that has an especially hypocritical or malevolent purpose (such as providing a dishonest explanation of why Victor Navasky has been working out of a closet at the Columbia Journalism Review for the past year).

So therefore, I humbly propose as a substitute for "fisking" the phrase "pawing through dreck."

See how well it works! Rather than saying that I had "fisked" Christopher Hitchens, one would say that I "pawed through some dreck Christopher Hitchens had written." Now, is that better or what?
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