30 January 2009


So, second day back at work yesterday, 43 degrees outside, and the airconditioners packed up. We were trying to concentrate on what we had to do: meetings, interviewing prospective students, admin duties, the usual stuff, while the temperature began the climb through the thirties. Most unpleasant.

In my mother's words: we were spiflicating. This is a word she always uses for when she's absolutely boiling. I always thought she'd made it up because it seemed an unusual word, and I'd never heard anyone else use it. But it was common lingo in our home.

So, I was surprised one day to come across it in the Macquarie -- only it doesn't mean "boiling hot", does it? It (spiflicate) means: "to destroy utterly; hurt, punish, or damage; destroy or kill". Hmmm. Maybe I'd misunderstood her meaning. Maybe she'd meant the heat was damaging us. That we were hurting.

So I rang her up.

"What does 'spiflicating' mean?" I said, as innocently as I could.

"Really hot," she said, "boiling. You know, when you think you're going to expire from heat."

Well, perhaps she didn't say "expire". That's more my type of word, but you get the drift. And that's how I felt yesterday. I was hurting. I felt close to expiring. (Yeah, yeah, I'm being dramatic, but it was a dramatic kind of day. And is again today.)

I know now that I shouldn't use "spiflicating" in this way, but I kind of like it. I'm tempted to put it into one of my character's mouths. "I'm spiflicating," one might say out in the desert. I'm tempted to try to spread the word and hope that like other words and phrases (it's all good, for example) it catches on. I mean it's all very well to argue that I've got the meaning wrong and shouldn't be using it incorrectly (yes, the editor in me shudders at the thought), but I'm too attached to the word -- and who ever uses it in it's real sense anyway? It's a spiffy word that should be out there more.

Anyway, language grows through misusage, even if some of that growth annoys the hell out of me. After learning that "alright" should really be "all right" -- my Webster's labels "alright" as "substandard usage", and several of my other dictionaries don't list it at all. One of my style guides says we should preserve "all right" as the correct spelling and never, ever use "alright"; another says that we should get with the times and not be so stuffy. I always use "all right". Even worse, for me, is the use of "disinterested" (meaning "unbiased") for "uninterested", but this meaning is becoming more acceptable and is listed in the latest Macquarie as being acceptable. Yuck. No, no, no. But "spiflicating" -- now, there's a word. Merriam Webster require three citations from diverse sources before they'll consider adding a new word (or neologism, another cool word) to the dictionary. How many do the Macquarie people need, I wonder. So here it is: spiflicating, spiflicating, spiflicating. Go out and use it. (If Ellen can have her interrobang, then I can have spiflicating = bloody hot, boiling.

Which brings me back to how I felt yesterday. You know, I actually didn't mind it too much till I went downstairs and realised how much cooler it was. Enrolments were happening there, and the cynic in me wondered whether that part of the aircon that had broken down serviced our part of the building, or whether someone somewhere decided to divert what aircon there was to where the enrolments were happening. It would make sense because there were a lot of people there. I'm a cynic because this used to happen when I was a scientist. When the temp got into the high 30s, the good people who maintained the aircon would turn our aircon off and divert all power to the operating theatre. Now, I can understand that the surgeons need to be cool, but we were up there spiflicating in our lab coats (me crouched over my Bunsen burner). And the biochemists -- half their tests wouldn't work, and then we'd get irate phone calls from doctors demanding results right away, and not wanting to listen to us say that we couldn't do it, not until things cooled down or we got our aircon back. Of course they never offered to give us a greater share of the aircon they were enjoying...


Mim said...

My Grandma (mum's mum) used to threaten to spiflicate her kids when they were semi-misbehaving (real misbehaviour copped something more drastic than mock threats). She was using it in the real sense!

My preferred mock threat is evisceration :)

Tracey said...

Hi, Mim! It's good to know someone else is spreading the word (or was spreading it!). It does sound good when used that way, doesn't it? Hmm, must try the threat out on my kids -- although they're likely to think I'm going to make them very hot! Yes, evisceration's a good one. So's beheading! lol.

fozmeadows said...

My family always uses spiflicating in the same way your mother does. Maybe, though, it's become a contraction: if we say 'the heat is spiflicating,' then we're saying the heat is hot enough to kill us. After a while, we cease to mention the heat out loud, and just refer to the weather as spiflicating, which, in the family lexicon, comes to mean 'really freakin' hot'. And so on. But it's a fantastic word eithe way.

Tracey said...

Thanks, Foz. That's really interesting -- and here I thought our family was just this strange anomaly... Glad to hear you guys say it too.

It's rather like the word "jubbily" (not sure how that's spelt, but definitely with a double b), which we used as kids for what is now termed a Sunny Boy. Trouble is all the different flavours are now called Sunny Boys as there's no other noun for them. A Sunny Boy is an orange one (block of frozen cordial in a foil packet), Razzes used to be red, Glugs are cola, and then there were Whizzs or, later, Zaps, which were lime. I thought everyone called them jubbilies, but then we found out it was only Williamstown Primary (not even Williamstown North) and a primary school in Brighton. Very bizarre.

Anonymous said...

My father used to use this word, and his usage was pretty consistent with the dictionary one. I never heard the word outside our household. I assumed that this and imaginary people such as Mrs Kafoops were just made up by Dad. Not so, as I now find out. His other unusual expression - for the liquor cabinet - took me quite a few years to work out - it was the Rotchaboots Cabinet.