Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Island effects

About 11 years ago I started teaching at a small boarding school in the Northern Prairies. A few years after I moved there one of my colleagues, Jerry, started using a mild exclamation to express surprise and disbelief. I doubt that he ever spelled it out but I assume it would be something like critney criteney or criteny. Two syllables: the first sounding like bright; the second sounding like knee.

This was about the time that Steve Irwin's popularity was reaching those upper latitudes. Everybody was working on an impression and around Halloween all the stores were selling out of khaki and stuffed wild animals.

Jerry's expression was obviously an altered form of Irwin's constant refrain: crikey. That expression itself is probably an altered form of Christ along the lines of cripes criminy and other similar vegetarian oaths.

He started saying it after a another friend (Keith) and I had one of our many arguments about language. Keith said it was crankey and I said he was wrong. (Keith was the same friend who argued that the word for a positively charged ion, cation, rhymes with ration. Back then I didn't bother looking for a community that pronounced it that way, I just called him an idiot. He was OK with that.)

So in his attempt to gather evidence against me Keith went around asking everybody what they thought Irwin was saying. He asked about 10 people and got about 12 answers. Keith and Jerry both liked crit/-ney/-eney/-eny so Jerry started using it. Ad Nauseam.

And back in 2001 he was using it so much that a hefty number of students started using it too, hungry as they were for a swear word that didn't offend the presbyters. Why do I bring it up now? Because it's been a while. And now I am so curious about its longevity. Did everyone give up on it once they realized that Keith and Jerry made it up? Did they just forget about it the same way they stopped wearing Members Only jackets and snow goggles in the summer? Is it possible that that this rare word (I couldn't find any relevant hits on Google™) is still being used in that odd and insulated little community 15 minutes north of Bismarck? I'd call and ask but I don't think the phone lines have made it up there yet.


  1. I'm not sure exactly which latitude you're on, but Steve Irwin's popularity didn't reach the northern hemisphere; it originated there. His American fanbase was well established for years before anyone had ever heard of him in his own country.

  2. as is usually the case.

    what i meant by the "upper latitudes" is the northern part of the continental united states. almost everything reaches north dakota after the rest of the country has gotten sick of it. fashion, music, television, textbooks...

    so it did reach north dakota. even if it originated in los angeles, atlanta or miami.


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