• burke •
Pronunciation: bêrk • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Verb, transitive
Meaning: 1. To cover up, to sweep under the rug, to quietly suppress, as politicians are wont to burke investigations into their wrong-doing. 2. To suffocate someone so as to leave the body intact for the killer's purposes.
Notes: Given the strong tendency in the US to hide indiscretion from public view, it is surprising that today's word is not as popular here as elsewhere in the English-speaking world. The verb is used without capitalization despite its origin (see History). Someone who burkes other people is a burker, engaged in burkism or burking.
In Play: The first definition of today's word has many applications outside the field of politics: "To make the film even more depressing, the director burked all the elements that might have even faintly curled the lips of the audience." Unfortunately, we still have room for the original meaning: "Dewey Trite burked a homeless hobo to put in his car when he faked his suicide."
Word History: The eponym of today's word was an Irishman, William Burke who, with his accomplice, William Hare, was executed in Edinburgh in 1830 for suffocating 16 people in order to sell their bodies to the Edinburgh Medical School for dissection. He received £7 10/- each for his wares, an excellent price even considering the extra work he performed. He was arrested with accomplices almost by accident, no suspicions having been raised by his seemingly limitless stock and overnight service. A bizarre memorial of Burke is kept in the Anatomy Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh: a wallet purported to be made from his tanned skin.