“Fisking” is a blogging term which means “to rebut an argument line by line, especially on the Internet.” (wiktionary).
But “fisking” is actually loaded with connotations that this pared-down definition does not reveal. Remember, words don’t have fixed definitions, but instead, they have various ‘uses’. (see my post: “The Definition Myth“).
Definitions: So here are some more definitions to give you a feel for the different flavors of “fisking“:
- “line-by-line nitpicking”
—Joel Spolsky – wiki
- “a point-by-point debunking of lies and/or idiocies.”
- “a pedantic, exhaustive, point-by-point refutation of someone’s political position”
- “reprinting of an article or blog post, interlarded with rebuttals and refutations, often intended to show the original is a sandpile of flawed facts, unfounded assertions, and logical fallacies.”
—on-line etymology dictionary
- “A point-by-point refutation of a blog entry or (especially) news story. A really stylish fisking is witty, logical, sarcastic and ruthlessly factual;”
“Fisking” was named after Robert Fisk, a British news-correspondent. From what I can gather, Fisk wrote a 2001 article in “The Independent” justifing Pakistanis who had beat him. Fisk’s leftist drenched report was criticized by Andrew Sullivan (a conservative journalist) using a point-by-point refutal (though not exhaustive) which then got the nickname, “Fisking”. The term was initially derogatory when used by liberals to describe Andrew’s criticism style, and as praise-worthy when used by conservatives who felt Fisk’s nonsense deserved to be blasted out of the water point-by-point. Oh yes, the name “Fisk” probably comes from the Scandinavian word for “fish” (see here and here).
Your feelings about the term “Fisking” may depend on if you are fisking or being fisked! On thing is for sure, it leads to long, tedious comments.
Below I give my evaluation of some pros and cons of fisking.
- Long ! : It can make comment thread very long due to repeated quoting of the other person’s exact material and thus essentially duplicating the post or previous comment. The person will do this with as many statements as possible instead of writing a much short statement addressing the main issue of the comment. It clogs up a comment thread and people tend to ignore that sort of comment.
- Boring: Reading such comment threads can be very boring. Few people want to re-read word-for-word the comment they just read.
- Hard on the Eye: It is difficult to separate out the author and the person the author is nit-picking. Fisking’s usual format is multiple “you said ….” following by some refutation or criticism. Blockquotes work better but they aren’t allowed on some blogs and it is easy to make an HTML mistake and ruin the comment format.
- Ignores main message: It can distract from the main point of a message by isolating individual sentences and focus on those tangents.
- Nit-picking Derision: It tends to not seek common ground but is argumentative and critical without being productive. Fisking is different from flaming, with which it is sometimes confused. Fisking is not verbal abuse, although it may contain a degree of derision and scorn. (wiki)
- Analytical: On reading a post that appears to be “a sandpile of flawed facts, unfounded assertions, and logical fallacies” (etymology.com) – Fisking is felt necessary to untangle the rhetoric.
- Persuasive Counter-Rhetoric: In a very legalistic, competitive, winning-is-all-that-matters method it can be effecting rhetoric
- Precise and Sequential: In careful argument, when actual clear statements are a goal, it can be productive.
Questions to readers: