Fredericksburg FeaturesMarch 23rd, 2012, 12:30 am
Columns and stories of life from the Fredericksburg area.
Free-range words cool? You bet your frammis
BY EDIE GROSS
I’M A FAN of free-range chicken. And I think free-range livestock is a fine idea.
But I’m especially supportive of free-range words.
These are words so fabulous, so multipurpose, they cannot be contained within the flimsy pages of even the most unabridged dictionary.
Instead, they roam free, their definitions and mysterious etymologies residing well beyond the oppressive reach of Webster and his effeminate alter ego, Merriam–Webster.
In my house growing up, frammis was a popular free-range word. It was the word my father used when he couldn’t think of the correct, dictionary-approved word, which was most of the time.
It was also a proper noun, standing in for the name of the person whose actual name escaped him, which was also most of the time.
So a conversation with my father might go something like this:
Dad, during a driving lesson: As we come up to this curve, you want to gently tap the frammis.
Me: The what?
Dad: The frammis. Tap the frammis, tap the frammis, TAP THE FRAMMIS!!
Me: Sorry. In driver’s ed, we call that “the brake.”
Dad: Call it what you want, just get your foot on the damn thing when I tell you to. You’re lucky Frammis isn’t in the car or she’d have a heart attack.
Me: Are you talking about Mom?
Dad: Stop talking and pay attention to the frammis.
When I got married, I discovered that my husband’s family used the word clam much the same way my family used frammis. It’s also a stand-in for any amount, as in This recipe calls for a clam of sassafras or I could really go for a clam of tater tots in a tangy ketchup–mayonnaise au jus right about now.
One of my favorite all-time free-range creations comes from my brother-in-law, Max, who invented the word croncile, a verb meaning to ruin or impact negatively.
For instance, The surest way to croncile a cookie—or any other dessert, quite frankly—is to add raisins to it.
The word is fairly versatile and is not limited to its verb form. For instance, the cookie referred to above could best be described as a culinary croncilation.
If you’re planning a major croncilation, you might first engage in a cronciltation with other co-conspirators. And the best way to remove a croncilation from your life is to perform a croncilectomy. In legal circles, this is also known as a divorce.
If something is particularly croncilaneous, like any movie starring Adam Sandler, it may rise to the level of being what my husband calls insegrevious—or so indescribably awful that being repeatedly punched in the gizatz would be preferable.
(The gizatz, of course, being located in the body’s delicate gizatzal region.)
Though not recognized by Webster’s yet, insegrevious is found in the Urban Dictionary, an online lexicon of slang submitted by the general public. I attribute this to the ever-growing legions of people subjected to Adam Sandler’s insegrevious films.
Rarely am I lucky to be present for the birth of a free-range word. But I was indeed that fortunate last month when I competed in the Spotsylvania Lions Club’s adult spelling bee.
Round after round, the pronouncer asked our three-person teams to spell official words, like aficionado, sacrilegious and furbelow, which quite frankly sounds like something you don’t talk about in mixed company.
We’d quickly scrawl our best guess on a whiteboard, and if we guessed correctly, we’d survive for another round.
At one point, the bee’s pronouncer asked the teams to spell cruciverbalist, a fancy–shmancy term for someone who creates or devours crossword puzzles.
But one team had a little trouble hearing him.
The result was a word so melodious, so sublime, that when the team spun their whiteboard around for the rest of us to see, a heavenly beam of light shot forth and a whole clam of angels began to sing.
The new free-range word? Cruciburbulous. It’s so much better than plain-old cruciverbalist that I haven’t stopped thinking about it since.
The fact that I spent the first 40 years of my life without even an ounce of cruciburbulosity in it is, quite frankly, insegrevious.
The only question that remains is What does it mean?
One of my spelling bee teammates, Andrew Barnick, suggested that perhaps Cruciburbulous—with a capital “C”—is the name of the demon who guards the gates of grammatical hell.
And while I like that idea, I’ve been searching for an appropriate adjectival definition as well, one befitting a word as glorious as this one.
I’m open to suggestions, so go to fredericksburg.com and post some beneath this column.
If yours strikes my funny bone—which incidentally is quite close to the gizatz—I’ll send you a free frammis.
Edie Gross: 540/374-5428
FUN WITH FREE-RANGE
One of the finest collection of free-range words ever uttered is found in season 3, episode 2 of “Black Adder,” a British comedy starring Rowan Atkinson as Edmund Blackadder.
In one scene of the episode called “Ink and Incapability,” Blackadder encounters a smug author who claims to have written a dictionary containing every word in the English language. Blackadder, having a little fun, offers the author his “enthusiastic contrafibularities.”
Blackadder: Contrafibularities, sir. It is a common word, sir, down our way.
Blackadder: Oh I’m sorry, sir. I’m anaspeptic, frasmotic, even compunctuous to have caused you such pericombobulation.
Author: What?! What?! What?!
Blackadder ultimately leaves the room, promising to “return interfrastically.”