My wife is a generally frugal person, but she does like to blow the occasional wad on something frivolous. I wouldn’t say she’s penny-wise and pound-foolish – she’s generally pound-wise too – but she has her breakout moments from fiscal restraint. We were talking about it today, and I confected a word for it. Fruval? Frigolous? No, let’s blend just a little bit more. Frugvolous.

And of course you have to know the two words blenderized into this one or you won’t know how to pronounce it. After all, the frug is obviously a closed syllable, so we don’t normally do the “long” sound – indeed, we usually do a whole other sound altogether, the sound in drug. But English is a language with a rather frugal set of letters (not much more than half as many as we have sounds that they represent) but a frivolous way of using them to represent sounds. So this frug is the same sound as in frugal – and in the dance called the frug, which is frugal in the footwork and frivolous in the arm movements.

Where do the two bits of this word come from? From Latin, both of them. The frugal part is from frugalis, ultimately from frux, ‘profit, utility, fruit’ (yes, fruit and fructose come from it too). And frux is properly pronounced to rhyme with cooks. The frivolous part is from frivolus ‘silly, empty, trifling, brittle’, ultimately from friare ‘break, rub away, crumble’. So somehow frugvolous derives from crumbly fruit.

I guess you could also spell this word frugvalous – why don’t I let the readers (and any future users) vote on that in action. But I wonder which of the two would tempt more to mispronunciation: i.e., to putting the stress on the second syllable instead of the first.

No surprise that anyone would do that, though. The two consonants /gv/ back to back make it harder for the second syllable to be entirely reduced and unstressed. We don’t normally pattern sounds that way. But there’s no specific rule that forces stress to be on one syllable and not another in English; we have general patterns, but so many exceptions, largely thanks to having stolen so many words from various other languages.

I guess we could look for a single word that would express the alternation of frugal and frivolous. But that word would not, in form, actually be constructed from an alternation of frugal and frivolous. Why not be frugal with the available word forms and frivolous in how we combine them?

2 responses to “frugvolous

  1. Haha! BRILLIANT! This could well be 2014’s “selfie”

  2. Mary H. Kendzicky


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