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The eponymous journalist Robert Fisk (pictured in 2005)

The term fisking is blogosphere slang describing a point-by-point criticism that highlights perceived errors, or disputes the analysis in a statement, article, or essay.[1]

Eric S. Raymond, in the Jargon File, defined the term as:

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.[2]


Named after Robert Fisk, a British journalist and author who writes on the Middle East, the term was employed in 2001 by various American conservative and libertarian bloggers who reposted Fisk's dispatches on their own blogs, along with paragraph-by-paragraph commentary that challenged, countered, and/or mocked Fisk's viewpoints.

A fisking is characteristically an incisive and fierce point-by-point rebuttal, and the aim is generally to weaken the target's credibility rather than seek common ground. The British newspaper The Observer defined fisking as "the practice of savaging an argument and scattering the tattered remnants to the four corners of the internet (named after Robert Fisk of the Independent)"[3]

Software engineering writer Joel Spolsky finds a precedent for fisking in the "line-by-line nitpick" reply style common on Usenet, saying "political bloggers, newcomers to the Internet, have reinvented this technique, thinking they were discovering something fun and new". [4] In a similar vein, Andrew Orlowski in The Register commented that "[m]any of today's debaters prefer 'Fisking'—line-by-line rebuttals where facts are dropped like radar chaff—to rational debate or building a coherent argument."[5]

As for Fisk himself, in a 2005 interview he stated that he was unaware of the term. "I have to be honest: I don't use the Internet. I've never seen a blog in my life. I don't even use email, I don't waste my time with this. I am not interested. I couldn't care less. I think the Internet has become a hate machine for a lot of people and I want nothing to do with it."[6]


"Fisking" was coined by bloggers in December 2001, following a three-paragraph response by Andrew Sullivan[7] to an article Fisk wrote for The Independent on Sunday earlier that month. In the piece, Fisk recounted a beating which he received at the hands of Afghan refugees in Pakistan and said that, given their experiences, which included having recently lost relatives in a B-52 bombing and having seen television footage of the massacre of prisoners at Mazar-i-Sharif, he could understand why they would have treated him or any other westerner that way and that, in their position, he would have behaved similarly.[8] Sullivan quoted and responded to passages from the Fisk piece, but not in a complete, line-by-line format. He described Fisk's excusal of his attackers as a form of left-wing racism.[7] The term fisking was first applied soon after on Instapundit and Sullivan's blog.[citation needed] Sullivan subsequently used the term on at least one other occasion, critiquing The Washington Post's critique of Sen. Chuck Hagel as a potential replacement for Leon Panetta as United States Secretary of Defense in December 2012.[9]

Comparisons and distinctions[edit]

Fisking can be compared to the Usenet style of responding to an argument's specific points by quoting lines prefixed with the ">" character [4] (which contrasts with the style often found in e-mail of top-posting a reply, all in one piece[10]).

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. Fisking should always be primarily factual, though it need not necessarily be polite.


  1. ^ William Safire (February 19, 2006). "Blargon". New York Times. Retrieved 2010-09-16. "He also notes "Another good blog term is to fisk, from Robert Fisk, a U.K. journalist. That's when you take an article and reprint it on your blog adding your line-by-line critique. It comes from bloggers doing that to Fisk's work, and now you'll hear 'That was some fisking of Bush's State of the Union.' "" 
  2. ^ Jargon File entry fisking
  3. ^ Archbishop on end of a good Fisking, The Observer, June 19, 2005
  4. ^ a b Spolsky, Joel (2004-09-06). "It's Not Just Usability". Retrieved 2008-10-30. 
  5. ^ How computers make kids dumb, The Register, Monday March 21, 2005
  6. ^ Antonia Zerbisias, Author Doesn't Give a Flying Fisk About Fisking, Toronto Star, November 29, 2005
  7. ^ a b The Daily Dish, Sunday, December 9, 2001, Internet Archive
  8. ^ Fisk, Robert (December 9, 2001). "My beating by refugees is a symbol of the hatred and fury of this filthy war". The Independent. Independent News & Media. Archived from the original on 2001-12-10. Retrieved 2008-03-09.  (Internet Archive, posted and archived the day after it was written and responded to, perhaps due to time zone differences)
  9. ^ Fisking The Washington Post
  10. ^ Top-post definition, from "the Jargon File":