Friday, December 10, 2010

Burke and Hare's School for the Morally Bankrupt

Are you down on your luck? Need cash now? Tired of the grind of nightly grave-robbing? Do you own a boarding house?

If you answered "yes" to one or more of these questions, then Burke and Hare's School for the Morally Bankrupt may be right for you. At BHSFMB, you will learn valuable skills to catapult you into the career of your dreams. Skills like:

- Luring friendless travellers into your boarding house
- Plying visitors with an excess of alcohol
- Smothering your victims
- Hiding bodies from your other boarders
- Selling corpes to a doctor at Edinburgh University for anatomical research
- Agreeing to testify against your partner in crime
- Being publicly dissected after your execution

With a degree from BHSFMB, you can have the life you've always wanted. Call today! Or visit us on the web at

I suppose some of this bears explanation. Because I am a big nerd, I am signed up for Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day email. Yesterday the word was "burke," a verb meaning "to suppress quietly or indirectly." I could have left it at that, but it was such a non-word-sounding word that I decided to read the etymology of this little beauty, which is provided at the end of the email. I learned that the word "burke" originally meant "to smother" and came from the last name of William Burke, who, with accomplice William Hare, killed 16 or 17 people burgh in the early 1800s. You can read the full story by following the link above, but basically, a man died in Hare's boarding house and instead of buring the body, Hare and his buddy Burke got the great idea to sell the body to a doctor at Edinburgh University for educational dissecting. It worked so well that they decided to do it again. But people don't just drop dead every day, so these enterprising little scamps decided to make their own luck and started killing people. In the name of science! In the end, as always seems to happen, they got sloppy and killed someone that other people were actually interested in looking for. They were caught, and Hare, good friend that he was, agreed to testify against Burke, which led to Burke's execution by hanging. Then, in a beautiful example of poetic justice, Burke's body was publicly dissected at Edinburgh University. His skeleton, death mask, and stuff made out of his skin are on display in the museum there. Charming.

So thank you, Mirriam-Webster, for sending me a word of the day with such a disturbing origin.


  1. Hey, the doctors needed some bodies, he was doing a public service!