Sunday, February 15, 2009

Deep and Crisp and Even

Veronica wrote, “One of my coworkers commented the other morning that it was a crisp winter day. I got to wondering: why crisp?

It’s probably a figurative application of crisp meaning stiff and brittle. It has the force of brisk and bracing. Things are frozen and crunchy, and we speak of crisp air, too. This subset of meaning appeared in 1869.

The word has gone through many applications. In the original Latin, crispus referred to curly hair; the ringlets were stiff and tight. This was the original meaning in English in the 10th century. By the 14th century, the meaning had shifted to any surface that had waves, wrinkles, or ripples. Particularly, the word was applied to fabrics with a crêpe-like texture.

By the 16th century, the word was used of brittle substances that are easily crushed by the teeth. In the 19th century, the meaning shifted to sharp, brisk, and decided in manner. A person could have a crisp touch on the piano, could deliver a crisp and decided speech, or could design crisp, detailed, and cleanly defined architecture.

In Britain, potato chips are potato crisps.

As an acronym, CRISP can refer to the Cambridge Racial Incident Support Project, the Centre for Remote Imaging Sensing & Processing, Computer Retrieval of Information on Scientific Projects, or Cross Registry Information Service Protocol.

SIDEBAR: Quentin Crisp Quotes

Now available from McFarland & Co.: Word Parts Dictionary, 2nd edition

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