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Tom Porter, "New York Times cross word: NRA spokeswoman denies bizarre threat to 'fist' the publication", Newsweek 8/5/2017:

A National Rifle Association spokeswoman in a bizarre dispute denied that she threatened to "fist" the New York Times in a video atacking [sic] the publication.

In a video released Thursday entitled “Dana Loesch: We’re Coming For You New York Times,” former conservative radio host Loesch staring straight to camera accuses the publication of spreading "fake news," and promoting  “constant protection of your democrat overlords.”

However one section containing an unclear short f-word prompted debate on Twitter. 

“We’re going to [unclear] the New York Times and find out just what deep rich means to this old gray hag, this untrustworthy dishonest rag that has subsisted on the welfare of mediocrity for one two three more decades,” Loesch said. “We’re going to laser focus on your so-called honest pursuit of truth. In short we’re coming for you.”

You can watch the whole thing here. This is the relevant passage:

And the crucial segment:

As expected in contemporary American English, the /k/ or /t/ of fisk or fist is unreleased, and merges acoustically as well as articulatorily with a stop-like allophone of the initial /ð/ of the following word the. In the version of the spectrogram below, I've indicated the merged stop gap with a red double-headed arrow. There's a bit of spectral energy around 2000 Hz at the end of the /s/ frication — marked with a blue oval below — that might be an indication of velarity, but frankly I think the recording is completely ambiguous as to whether Ms. Loesch said "fisk" or "fist":

I'm confident that Ms. Loesch meant to say "fisk". But apparently not everyone is as conversant with 2003-era blogging lingo as they are with terminology for extreme sexual practices.  I have some personal experience that leads me to sympathize with Ms. Loesch on this lexicographical point: In January of 2004, I proposed "fisking" as a candidate for the American Dialect Society's 2003 Word of the Year, and was reminded that not everyone has the same linguistic experience:

One thing that surprised me at the ADS "Word of the Year" nominations session was that very few of the participants had ever heard of the term fisking. I nominated it but there was no uptake. Only one of the 30 or so people in the room indicated any familiarity with the word at all, and that was Grant Barrett, the webmaster of the ADS site. He argued that the word is limited to a small circle of ("like 23") warbloggers, who use it in a self-conscious way intended to spread it, rather than as a natural part of their vocabulary, and that it was unlikely to spread outside that narrow group or even to last as an item of subculture vocabulary. Given that no one else in the room seemed even to have heard of the word, I let it drop. ["ADS Word Of The Year is Metrosexual", 1/10/2004]

There's been quite a bit of twitter and media fuss about the "We're coming for you" video — "Fist Or Fisk? NRA’s Bizarre Ad Has A Confusing Message For New York Times"; "Dana Loesch shoots down journalists who misheard her when she said NRA wants to 'Fisk' the New York Times"; "'Fisk' is currently one of’s most searched words thanks to an NRA video threatening The New York Times"; "Apparently, the NRA Does Not Want to 'Fist' the NYT, but It's Still 'Coming for' the NYT"; "“We’re going to ???? the New York Times”"

So maybe fisk will now be able to make the transition out of lexicographical purgatory? We can only hope.


  1. Adam Field said,

    August 5, 2017 @ 10:21 am

    I've never heard that word before today. It's kind of crazy that neither this post, nor the linked post from 2004, actually *defines* the word anywhere that I can see? I can kind of see what it means in context, from the examples provided in the 2004 post, but still.

    [(myl) Here you go, courtesy of Wiktionary:

    Or from the Jargon File:

    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.

  2. ahkow said,

    August 5, 2017 @ 10:33 am

    I looked around but couldn't find a clear definition — what does "fisk" mean??

    [(myl) See above.]

  3. Mark P said,

    August 5, 2017 @ 11:31 am

    I was pretty convinced that I had never heard of fisk until I read the definition, and then I realized that I had indeed heard of it and (at one time) knew what it meant.

  4. Victor Mair said,

    August 5, 2017 @ 12:02 pm

    At first I thought that maybe she had said "frisk", which is actually mentioned in the Wiktionary article just above the part quoted by Mark:


    Etymology 1

    Compare Swedish fjäska (“to bustle about”).

    fisk (third-person singular simple present fisks, present participle fisking, simple past and past participle fisked)

    (obsolete) To run about; to frisk; to whisk.


    Of course, after all the evidence presented above, I can no longer stand by my first impression.

  5. chips mackinolty said,

    August 5, 2017 @ 12:34 pm

    Fisking is also directly referred to in the Wikipedia entry on the journalist in question. []:

    Fisking is a blogosphere slang describing a point-by-point criticism that highlights perceived errors, or disputes the analysis in a statement, article, or essay.[35] The term originated from various blogs which have taken particular issue with Fisk's views. Many of these bloggers have responded by reprinting his dispatches on their blogs, adding their own paragraph-by-paragraph commentary, dissecting and claiming to debunk Fisk's assertions and opinions.[36] According to The Guardian, "fisking" has come to denote the practice of "savaging an argument and scattering the tattered remnants to the four corners of the internet".[37]

    [(myl) In my experience, the Wiktionary ("A rebuttal to an article or blog made by quoting its content in sections and refuting each section individually") and Jargon File ("A point-by-point refutation of a blog entry or (especially) news story […] flaming or handwaving is considered poor form") definitions are more accurate than the Guardian's ("savaging an argument and scattering the tattered remnants to the four corners of the internet").]

    It would seem to me, then, that fisking is very much a term of abuse from the right of politics, and in the context of the journalist is an attempt to savage his particular views and reportage of the Middle East. So not at all surprising that it was someone from the NRA who used the term.

    [(myl) The term certainly originated on the right, specifically during the Iraq war, but the most notable current practitioners of the art are the writers who deconstruct the current American administration's speeches and press releases, in the (web) pages of the NYT and the Washington Post.]

  6. Norman Smith said,

    August 5, 2017 @ 12:36 pm

    I wonder how many people in the target (oops!) audience are familiar with the term "fisk"?

  7. Bill Bailey said,

    August 5, 2017 @ 3:20 pm

    Am I the only human on the planet that thinks of tires when I hear "Fisk?" Does no one remember the little urchin holding a lamp in one hand, with a tire over the other shoulder with the legend "Time to re-Tire? Buy Fisk!"

    I would have dearly loved for the term she used to have been the more perjorative "fist" coming from the NRA, so let's just say whichever of these two terms that the readers determine to be in the worst taste is the version I would want to attribute to the quote.

  8. Terry Hunt said,

    August 5, 2017 @ 3:51 pm

    As a (UK) Science Fiction fan who regularly reads a number of UK- and US-based SF-fan blogs I have encountered this term often enough in them (though nowhere else) in the last 5+ years to be familiar with it and the practice. However, while aware that it arose in connection with a writer surnamed Fisk, I had been under the impression that (a) Fisk was connected to the SF fandom community and (b) he had himself originated the practice, not been the original subject of it.

  9. AntC said,

    August 5, 2017 @ 9:09 pm

    Can only echo others that I've never heard that sense of fisk (or if I did, I've forgotten it). I have (vaguely) heard of Robert Fisk. So good call by ADS.

    A point-by-point refutation of a blog entry … seems like what I know as 'birdpecking' in email forums: a play on the '>' used in emails to quote the post you're replying to; and in the sense of point-by-point 'pecking to death' of that post. Mainly used disparagingly: the response might refute each point, but entirely fail to understand the 'big picture'.

  10. JChance said,

    August 6, 2017 @ 2:49 am

    I remember, around the same time (early 2000s), that "sporking" was also used for the same practice, maybe with more open mockery, in a lot of SF-fan circles.

  11. Graeme said,

    August 6, 2017 @ 2:53 am

    Given it's the NYT, the verb is 'to Robert Fisk' someone the first time. Then 'to Mr Fisk' them subsequently.

  12. J.W. Brewer said,

    August 7, 2017 @ 7:25 am

    Just looking at the quoted portion, "deep rich" in "find out just what deep rich means" seems nonsensical enough as to suggest it might also be a mondegreenish mistranscription. But I can't immediately think of a similar-sounding candidate for what might have been intended, and maybe something earlier in the discourse made "deep rich" slightly less out-of-left-field?

  13. chips mackinolty said,

    August 7, 2017 @ 8:13 am


  14. mollymooly said,

    August 7, 2017 @ 2:58 pm

    Loesch and NRA fans have since April 2017 been derisively quoting the phrase "deep and rich detail" used in a Feb 2017 NYT ad.

  15. J.W. Brewer said,

    August 7, 2017 @ 4:33 pm

    So not a mondegreen but an inside reference that was lost on me. I appreciate the enlightenment provided by mollymooly. But this was already several days ago and the Beltway is reportedly now atwitter about a new usage controversy, which Ben Zimmer is on top of.

  16. Jim said,

    August 7, 2017 @ 5:41 pm

    I first encountered it 10-12 years ago, from Andrew Sullivan's Dish blog. Knew exactly what it must mean, but the word was obscure enough that I couldn't find an online definition at the time to be sure.

  17. Adrian said,

    August 7, 2017 @ 6:45 pm

    Fisking is one of those things I'm always saying I'm going to do, and then a day or two later I feel relieved that I didn't waste a couple of hours of my life doing it.

  18. John said,

    August 10, 2017 @ 9:08 am

    From context I assumed it meant "investigate in great detail". The given definition actually makes less sense than if they said "fist".

    "We're going to fist you" is, at least, a clear threat, if a puerile and essentially meaningless one. "We're going to present a detailed counterpoint to your work" is… like, OK? What do you say to that? "We look forward to seeing what you come up with. Journalism can only benefit from eagle-eyed oversight and healthy skepticism, and your giving our work a line-by-line counterpoint is an incentive for us to make it as compelling and self-supporting as possible. So… thanks, I guess."

    Much like the "deep rich" in-joke examined in previous comments, this is playing to the base: it only sounds like a scary threat if you *already* buy into the speaker's narrative that the NYT is a propaganda rag spewing partisan nonsense that is doomed to fall apart at the slightest interrogation. If you believe the NYT is a serious publication, all you're going to think is… cool. Fire away.

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