How Robert Bork Defended The Original Martini
Bob observed that the original martini was a careful mixture of three or four (or five or six) parts gin (preferably Bombay or Tanqueray) to one part vermouth.
March 8, 2013 - 1:00 pm
The recent fad of calling almost any clear-liquor drink a martini pained him. For a while, I collected some absurd examples and sent them on to him for his Index Potio Prohibitorum: I wince to recall such toxic-sounding confections as a “smoked salmon martini,” a “chocolate martini,” etc. Once, having ordered a martini, Bob was presented with a drink containing two olives. He sent it back. “If I had wanted a salad,” he told the waiter, “I would have ordered one.”
I hasten to add that this was not pedantry or narrow-mindedness on his part. He often ordered and enjoyed a Gibson, and was not averse to other cocktails. But a martini was a martini, and if he ordered a martini, that is what he wanted. There is a famous scene in Through the Looking Glass in which Alice has an exchange with Humpty Dumpty about semantics, identity, and power. It is relevant to Bob’s battle to preserve the martini.
‘I don’t know what you mean by “glory”,’ Alice said.
Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. ‘Of course you don’t — till I tell you. I meant “there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!”‘
‘But “glory” doesn’t mean “a nice knock-down argument”,’ Alice objected.
‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’
‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’
‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master — that’s all.’
Bob Bork took a dim view of the Humpty-Dumpty approach to language and to life. We cannot simply redefine things to suit ourselves. Or rather, we can, but the fate of Humpty Dumpty offers a cautionary tale of what the consequences may be. You might think it an innocent thing to substitute an olive or two for the specified twist of lemon. What harm could it do? But start down that road and before you know it you wind up with monstrosities like the “smoked salmon martini.” At that point, all the king’s horses and all the king’s men are helpless. No, when it came to martinis, Bob Bork was an originalist and we are better off for it.
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