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crispy

“How would you like your bacon?” Maury asked, leaning into the dining area from his kitchen. “Crisp?”

Arlene nodded.

“Crispy,” Jess answered.

Maury raised an eyebrow and retreated. Arlene smiled with approval: “Not just crisp. Crispy!”

“Aren’t they the same thing, though?” Daryl said, pursing his lips.

“Well,” I said, “easy to check.” Daryl had already gotten out his iPad and was doing some looking up, but that wasn’t what I had in mind. “Try swapping in one for the other.”

“‘They have chicken fingers,’” Arlene said, quoting an ad that was on TV a lot a couple of years ago. “‘Crisp ones.’ Oh, yes, not quite the same. Too technical. Not playful.”

“The diminutive effect of the suffix,” Jess said. “Sort of like the difference between a thing and a thingy.”

“Funny,” Arlene said. “If I talk about something as being orangey, it’s just orange-ish. Or a greeny-blue – more of a tendency. But crispy isn’t just crispish.”

“But try substituting the other way,” I said. “How’s the weather outside? In January it can be crisp. But when is it crispy?”

“Arizona in July,” Daryl said.

“Heat! It connotes overcooking!” Arlene said.

“If someone gives you a crisp retort…” Jess said.

“Icy,” Arlene said. “But if it’s crispy… ooh, tsszt” (she made as if touching something hot).

“Crisp consonants can be good for singing,” I said. “Crispy ones, not so much perhaps. Sounds kind of crunchy almost. And I like nice, crisp definition in a picture. I have no idea what crispy definition might be. Maybe over-sharpened.”

“I like a nice, crisp shirt,” Arlene said. “A crispy shirt sounds like high fashion. Or clubwear.”

“Maybe you’ve just gotten a little crispy,” Daryl said, miming smoking marijuana. I glimpsed Urban Dictionary on his iPad. “But crispy is a good thing if you’re going out. ‘You look crispy.’ Stylish, smart, confident. Not crepitating but scintillating.”

“And apparently with freshly curled hair,” Jess said.

“Crispy curls?” Arlene said.

Crispus. Latin for ‘curly,’” Jess explained.

“Know when crispy was first used?” Daryl said, looking at his iPad.

“1300-something, wasn’t it?” I said.

“Yeah,” he said. “1398. That -y suffix usually attaches to nouns, but there was a little vogue for extending one-syllable adjectives with it. …Hm!” He smiled a little. “The OED says that this started in the 15th century, if not earlier. Well, 1398 is slightly earlier…”

“You’ll have to email Jesse Sheidlower,” I said. (He’s Editor at Large of the OED.) “He’ll probably say, ‘Yeah, I know.’”

Maury reappeared from the kitchen carrying plates of brunch, the first two for the ladies. “Crisp,” he said, setting a plate in front of Arlene with curly bacon on it. “And crispy,” he said, setting down Jess’s plate with just a little rap so that the bacon on it shattered.

“Crispy?” Jess said. “Frangible!”

“Friable,” I said.

Over-fry-able,” Arlene said.

“Buon appetito,” Maury said crisply, and returned to the kitchen.

Thanks to Mark Mandel for suggesting crispy.

crisp

The Henry V concert was over, and I met up with Montgomery Starling-Byrd on the sidewalk outside Roy Thomson Hall.

“How was it?” I said.

“Crisp,” he said.

“As in Crispin or Crispinian?” These two were the martyred twin brothers honoured on St. Crispin’s Day, October 25, which is when Henry V won the battle of Agincourt. You may be interested to know that the brothers lived in Soissons, France, less than 300 km away from Agincourt (take the highway A26), but 1130 years before the battle.

“Yes,” he said. “Aside from the martyrdom bit.”

“No martyrdom for Crispus today,” I said. “I’m not wearing a tux.” I’ll explain that one: Crispin and Crispinian are derived from Latin crispus, which means “curly”; Crispus Attucks, a man of half-African and half-Wampanoag ancestry, is generally thought of as the first person killed in the American Revolution, at the Boston Massacre. And, yes, I was wearing white tie and tails, not black tie and tuxedo.

“Indeed, proper tails are a constant.” I suspect he was making a joke on Emperor Constantine I, who had a son named Crispus. Whom he had killed.

“Just as well,” I said, “my tux is going to hell in a handbasket.” That was a pun on Helena, the mother of Constantine, and also on Helena Bonham-Carter, cousin of Crispin Bonham-Carter, who is also an actor.

“Well, let us turn back to the future for a moment,” Montgomery said. I was surprised that he had seen Back to the Future, which starred Crispin Glover as McFly. “I ought to have gone once more into the breach in the concert hall; my intermission libations are catching up on me. Is there a pay toilet around here?”

“No pay toilets in Toronto,” I said. “We prefer to hold our manhoods cheap – or free, actually.” This was a reference to a line in King Henry’s speech before the battle. “We could go across King Street to Quotes – I’ll have a pint, and you’ll have a –”

“Yes,” Montgomery said, cutting me off, “that sounds good. A snack perhaps. All I’ve had is a packet of crisps. I wonder whether they have crêpes.” Yes, crêpe is cognate with crisp too. We started walking.

“More likely just French fries,” I said. “Calamari and Guinness are what I usually get. They might have curly fries, though.”

“Indeed, the original crisps,” Montgomery said. What he meant, of course, was that, as I’ve mentioned, crisp comes from Latin crispus – yes, “curly” – and came to mean “rippled, wrinkled” in the 1300s and “brittle” only in the 1500s. Lexicographers are unsure how it came to have the “brittle” meaning but speculate that the sound of the word had some influence. “But of course,” Montgomery added, “French fries are really chips, looking like wood chips. Whereas you colonials use chips to refer to crisps.”

“I do admit,” I said, “potato chips sound more like crisps. You can hear it when you eat them: ‘crisp, crisp, crisp.'” We walked on for a few seconds, pondering onomatopoeia. “So,” I said, returning to the original topic, “Crisp – I mean, Christopher Plummer was suitably plummy for you?”

“He has a voice one can curl up with,” Montgomery said. “And the orchestra and the two choirs could make one’s hair curl. And it was all, as I said, crisp and clear.”

“Marvellous,” I said. “I’m looking forward to doing it again on Saturday. But now,” I said, veering to the steps down to Quotes, “let it be in our flowing cups freshly rememb’red.”