phryganimous, garrigous

There are people who are like a tropical shower, sweeping through and drenching all around. If they are disposed to humour, you may even be literally showered by spray from their lips and perhaps by a splash from their glass. Some people find such social hydration refreshing. Some need it often; others can absorb it occasionally like succulents and then go without until the next party or conference. Some people find it altogether excessive and retreat to seek dryness before they drown.

Today’s words are for people exactly not like those passing showers. The people they describe are much better for those who require aridity.

A phryganimous person is one who is like a dry breeze, one who will not shower you with affection or much else. The word is from Greek ϕρύγανον ‘a dry stick’ or its source ϕρύγειν ‘roast, parch’ plus either Latin animus ‘soul, mind’ or its relative Greek ἄνεμος ‘wind’. It may seem ironic that this word comes from Mediterranean cultures that are famously emotionally demonstrative, but a more Nordic culture might not bother having a word for it; it’s the norm there, and you just need a word for the exceptions.

Finns in particular are axiomatically phryganimous. Did you hear about the Finnish man who loved his wife so much he almost told her so? But phryganimous doesn’t mean just (or exactly) ‘laconic’, nor does it mean ‘cold’. It may mean that the person could snap easily like a dry twig, or burst into flames with too much friction. But it certainly means that the person can survive and even thrive without too much emotional hydration – large demonstrations of affection, massive hugfests, and such like are not, shall we say, what they seek out.

It certainly does not mean that they are insipid. Dry shrubs can have intense, concentrated flavours. You have some of their foliage in jars in your kitchen, and perhaps some extracts in your bathroom: thyme, rosemary, juniper, lavender… All of these are part of the low dry shrubbery called phrygana, from the same ϕρύγανον.

Phrygana is also known as garrigue, a word we got from French, which apparently got it from the ancient soil. And garrigue brings us to our other word of today.

You know the word garrulous, I’m sure. A person who is garrulous is verbally overhydrating. The words come out not so much in a constant stream as in a fire-hydrant drenching. And you know what happens when you mix too much water into anything: It’s just… tasteless. Well, garrigous is much the opposite. A person who is garrigous is one whose presence is reminiscent of garrigue: their conversation is drier and more restrained but so very savoury.

Garrigue is brief in stature, and brevity is the soul of wit. It need not be sharp or cutting; it can find form in a brief compliment that stays with you so much longer than any endless flattery, or a few words of reminiscence that draw out days of memories. It is unpretentious, but nothing tastes quite right without at least a bit of it.

You won’t need either of these words often enough, alas. But there are times when one or both will be just what you mean. Do make sure to explain them to your readers or listeners, though – or give them a link to this little article. No dictionary will help you, alas. They’re made from savoury ancient parts, but by never-before-seen recipes: they’re new old words.

2 responses to “phryganimous, garrigous

  1. Laurie Miller

    Hah! Excellent, James. I totally bought into phryganimous, and it’s a word we definitely need. Phryganimous. Yes.

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