As It Happens

Family hopes to get citrus-squirting word 'orbisculate' into dictionary to honour father

If you've ever found yourself at a loss for words after being squirted in the eye by a fruit, Hilary Krieger has a suggestion: "orbisculate." But don't bother looking it up in the dictionary — at least not yet. 

Hilary Krieger's father, Neil, who coined the word, died in April 2020 of COVID-19

Neil, far left, his wife Susan, son Jonathan and Hilary, far right, in Boston at the launch party for Jonathan's book. After Neil died in April 2020, his family launched a petition to get "orbisculate" into the dictionary. (Krieger Family)

If you've ever found yourself at a loss for words after being squirted in the eye by a fruit, Hilary Krieger has a suggestion: orbisculate. But don't bother looking it up in the dictionary — at least not yet. 

"The first classical definition is when you dig into a grapefruit and it squirts out right into your eye," Hilary, opinion editor at NBC news, told As It Happens guest host Peter Armstrong. 

"It turns out, though, lots of different citrus and other fruits and vegetables like to squirt … and those can also be considered to have orbisculated." 

The word was first coined by Hilary's dad, Neil Krieger. Now she and her brother, Jonathan Krieger, are petitioning to get the made-up word added to the dictionary to honour their father who died in April 2020 of COVID-19.

The origins of 'orbisculate'

Hilary said her father invented the word in the late 1950s for an assignment at Cornell University, where he had to invent a word. He then continued to use the word in everyday life. 

"My brother and I just grew up assuming it was a real word. You know, that's how you learn words, is your parents say them. And it never occurred to us that this wasn't a universally known word," Hilary said. 

It wasn't until she was in her 20s and used "orbisculate" in front of a college friend that she realized something was up. 

"We were eating oranges and one orbisculated on him, which I noted. And he said, 'It did what?' I said, 'Orbisculated on you.' He's like, 'That's not a word.'" 

The Krieger family on a ferry trip. Hilary Krieger says she and her brother spent their entire childhood believing that orbisculate was a real word. (Krieger Family)

Hilary bet her friend five dollars she could find it in a dictionary, and when she came up short she ran into her father's office to tell him that the dictionary was wrong. 

"I said, 'Dad, orbisculate's not in this dictionary; what's going on?' And he gave me a very, very sheepish look. And he is like, 'well ..."

Hilary was temporarily annoyed by the deception, but soon came to the conclusion that her father creating the word gave it even more meaning. 

"He just was a funny, creative, quirky guy," she said. "So taking something that would otherwise be painful and annoying and finding a way to have fun with it was really in keeping with his character." 

'Wait, why isn't this in the dictionary?'

When Neil died in April 2020 from COVID-19, the family wasn't able to grieve in a normal way. 

Instead of friends and family gathering in their Boston home, they held a virtual shiva. And as Hilary and Jonathan spoke with loved ones about their dad, the story of "orbisculate" kept coming up. 

"It was just fun and funny and memorable," she said. 

That's when the idea hit her. 

"One moment it was like, wait, why isn't this in the dictionary? Like, this totally should be in the dictionary. And we're sitting around in quarantine and we have, like, nothing to do right now. So, like, let's just try and get in the dictionary." 

Neil Krieger had a 'massive laugh,' his daughter said, and would get a kick out of his family trying to get his made-up word into the dictionary. (Krieger Family)

Hilary and Jonathan launched the orbisculate website, which lets people sign a petition and asks them to use orbisculate in an email, tweet or anywhere it fits. 

"The basic way you get a word in the dictionary is to use the word," Hilary said. "That's ultimately what makes it successful in the eyes of the dictionary editors." 

They've set up a list of 50 milestones to hit, like getting orbisculate on a podcast, and getting Ben and Jerry's to create a sorbet with orbisculation in the name. 

They are also selling orbisculate-themed T-shirts and tank tops on their website with all proceeds going to Carson's Village, a charity that helps families dealing with grief. 

I think if I told him that, 'Hey, we might get orbisculate in the dictionary,' I would be able to hear his laugh about a mile away.- Hilary Krieger

So far, orbisculate can only be found on the online crowdsourced site Urban Dictionary. But Hilary isn't giving up hope yet. Their website points out that similar words, like chillax and bootylicious, made their way into the lexicon. 

And if all else fails there is always bribery, she joked. 

"There was a site that recommended you find an editor and get them a really good bottle of prime scotch as a way of winning them over," she said. 

Hilary believes that no matter what happens, her dad would get a kick out of the process. 

"He had this massive laugh," she said. "And I think if I told him that, 'Hey, we might get orbisculate in the dictionary,' I would be able to hear his laugh about a mile away." 

Written by Sarah Jackson. Produced by Sonya Varma.