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the etymology of "gorked" and its cognates

posted on June 29th, 2007

Gorked is a word we like to throw around the emergency department and the hospital wards from time to time. In our general usage of the term, it basically means someone who is non-responsive, generally comatose (as opposed to mere altered mental status/delirium.) In some ways, it has an iatrogenic connotation to it, as it is sometimes used to describe patients who are inadvertantly rendered unresponsive due to excessive dosing of medication (although the more common terminology for this condition is snowed) or unresponsive because of a bad clinical outcome, such as massive stroke, brain hemorrhage, post-code brain (so called because this is what tends to happen when they call a code blue [cardiac and/or respiratory arrest emergency] and it takes more than 8 minutes to get you back, meaning that there is bigtime hypoxic-ischemic brain injury—no oxygen or bloodflow to the brain), or post-bypass brain (which is usually a lot more subtle, and usually has psychiatric qualities to it, but occasionally, someone who gets a coronary artery bypass graft—abbreviated as CABG and affectionately pronounced like “cabbage”—gets gorked.)

The word gork can actually be found in the dictionary, defined specifically as “anesthetized.” The etymology is unclear, but one theory is that it is an acronym that means ”god only really knows”,” referring to the fact that frequently, we don’t really know why a particular patient is gorked.

A typical conversation:

Resident: So what’s wrong with him? Intern: I don’t know. He’s just gorked.

Interestingly, the word has apparently metastasized outside of its medical context, and people frequently speak of things that are gorked, that is, broken and/or non-functional.


Which may have contributed to the related term borked. This term has a narrow application that arose in the 1980s, specifically meaning the torpedoing of the career of an aspiring politico by impugning their character and background, derived from the fraught debate over the confirmation to the Supreme Court of Robert Bork, a Reagan nominee. I imagine it has similar connotations to swiftboating.

But borked arose again in a different context, the nerd argot of leetspeak, which typically utilizes oddities of typography and the idiosyncrasies of a QWERTY keyboard. The original root is broken, which mutated into borken, then b0rken by a common principle employed in leetspeak, and finally abbreviated even more to b0rked, then renormalized as borked.

Yet another independent origin for bork likely comes from Jim Henson’s muppet, the Swedish Chef, who utters the trademark phrase “Børk! Børk! Børk!”


Finally, there is the related word horked, which basically means the same thing as borked and thus has much in common with gorked. Interestingly, there is a theory that horked is actually a corruption of gorked. (You’ll have to search for it because there aren’t any anchors to link to.) But I think that it is likely derived from the cartoon character Ren Hoëk (pronounced as “Hork”) It so happens that hork is also an onomatopoeic word frequently used in the show to describe the sound a cat makes when coughing up a hairball, itself likely derived from the phrase hacking up a hairball, and also related to the phrase hawking (or hocking) up a loogie, which actually was recorded as early as 1581.

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