My laptop is on the fritz. I will resist the temptation to bore you with the aggravating details and spare you an unpleasant accounting of my interaction with technicians who don’t speak English and a service center run by apparent morons. Instead I suggest we spend these few moments together considering the sad state of an otherwise useful phrase such as “on the fritz.”
Does anyone actually say “on the fritz” anymore? As it came off of my fingers there in the first paragraph, it occurred to me that I hadn’t said it or read it since the Carter Administration, and even then it surely must have sounded a bit dated. The last time I used it, in fact, I may have thought to myself, “Now there’s a spiffy little phrase”—even though surely nothing had truly been spiffy, or even nifty for that matter, since the Truman Administration. Those words were stuck on a dusty shelf along with “on the fritz,” replaced since then by other manifestations of cool, such as misspelling wurdz for effect (although I confess that the effect on me is an unintended one).
What exactly is the provenance of “on the fritz” anyway? It seems to suggest that there’s just the one fritz out there, apparently overloaded with all of our broken-down junk. “On the fritz” is where you put something that isn’t working right, right? I pity the original Fritz for whom this particular idiom was named. How badly do you have to muck things up for them to name a negative idiom for you?
(Aside: I suspect that things have not been “mucked up” since Calvin Coolidge was in the White House, but that’s another matter altogether.)
No doubt I learned “on the fritz” from my parents, (or should I say paruntz?). I’ve noticed that we do that to our kids, and I’m not sure it’s fair. Let me give you an example: Around our house, when you give someone a little playful goose in the keister (another word I learned from Mom and Dad), we say that you have given that person “woobs.” It’s a word I invented (or at least, I think I did) when my firstborn was a little guy. (I don’t even know how to spell woobs since it doesn’t rhyme with any real word. Even now, as I look at it, I know that you are mispronouncing it, as if it rhymed with “tubes,” for example. My guess is it needs some of those weird European vowels, like this: wöôbs.) The point is that at some future date my poor unsuspecting kids will leave home and discover (to their horror) two things:
- It is not socially acceptable to goose those around you. It’s rude in fact. Inappropriate. Generally not good.
- There are only 5 people (all relatives) who use the word woobs. Everyone else sticks to plain English.
At which point my kids will probably wonder why, with so many wonderful people in the world, God stuck them with us. And they’ll think to themselves: “Those two have been on the fritz since Clinton was President.”