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