A few years ago I was taking part in a discussion thread on Book Country, concerning things authors do that you hate, when one of the other members mentioned that she had read a book where the author kept referring to pubic hair as crispy. As you might expect, this resulted in numerous comments regarding how silly and incorrect it was to use “crispy” in that sense. I decided to add my (academic) 2 cents to the discussion by way of an etymological history of the word as follows:
I thought I should add some insight into the “crispy” discussion – from a purely academic viewpoint – and set the record straight. Folks, I really hate to rain on your parade regarding “crispy”, but the truth is that the original author had greater insight into the etymology of the word than you give her or him credit for. While there is debate as to whether it is actually derived from the Old English “ChRISPUY” (sorry, but my computer doesn’t have an accurate Old English alphabet) or the French “Crispέέ”, nevertheless its original meaning was “Crispin-like”. This referred to the 3rd Century Saints Crispin and Crispinian (they were brothers) who are the patron saints of cobblers, tanners and leather workers (and at one time of weavers too), and after whom Saint Crispin’s Day is named. It is generally accepted that they were beheaded at the order of the Roman Emperor Diocletian in Belgic Gaul c. 286 AD. As to the original meaning of the word: Legend has it that both brothers were in the habit of walking around the town showing off their wares – newly weaved “wool britches” – to passersby. As word of their great ability at weaving spread, it attracted the attention of both the Emperor Diocletian and the Holy See (hence the short-lived designation as patron saints of weavers). The Emperor, on his return from Britain, decided to see for himself. Blessed with more insight than the average person, the Emperor quickly realized the brothers were both practical jokers, and also extremely hirsute and fleecy in their lower regions, so when they were showing off their wares, they were, in truth showing off their “wares” (think The Emperor’s New Clothes). Unfortunately for the brothers, the Emperor turned out to have no sense of humor and ordered their execution (which did, of course, lead to their sainthood, although “executed for their faith” may be considered a stretch). Years later, in 296 AD, Pope Caius was finally let in on the joke and dropped dead (assumedly of heart failure). His successor, Pope Marcellinus, upon ascending to the papacy, immediately had the “patron saints of weavers” appellation revoked.
So, while I am unsure how the meaning of “crispy” was bastardized to its present meaning (it may have been due to an attempt by Saint Sanders of Kentucky to reform the memory of the brothers by claiming they had been burned at the stake instead of sent to the chopping block); I can happily inform you that the word’s original meaning was luxuriant and lush, and hence, I assume, apropos to the story in question.
For more info, please see: Cardinal Saint-Andre΄, Jacques-Camile, 1894, Saints and Bozos – why they won’t let you into the Vatican Archives, Vatican Press, 10,001 pages. (Published 1894, all copies but the one in my possession burned by Papal Decree 1894).
Hope that helps,
As you might imagine the response was groans and one comment to the effect that I’m evil. All in all, it just convinced me that I had them all going for a while. It’s amazing what people will believe when they assume a) you’re serious, and b) you know what you’re talking about.
P.S. I never assume b – I know too many Ph. D’s.