There is. Orbisculate. It was coined by Neil Krieger, a Boston-based neuroscientist, who died of COVID-19 last April at 78.
Alas, this most excellent coinage is not in the dictionary. Or, at least, not yet. But Krieger’s two children, Hilary, 44, a Brooklynite holed up in a pandemic bubble in Boston, and Jonathan, 35, a Bostonian, embarked on a campaign last summer to do just that.
A Harvard-trained biochemist, Neil Krieger taught at Harvard Medical School and formed West Rock Associates to support biotech startups. Krieger’s children describe their father as a renaissance man. Both Hilary and Jonathan are writers — Hilary reported for the Jerusalem Post and was an editor at The Washington Post, and was active in the lay-led Tikkun Leil Shabbat community; while Jonathan is an entrepreneur who culled his sundry work experiences into the book “Odd Jobs.”
“When we were young, anytime we would write something, Dad would say, ‘This is dynamite!’ and then he would hand it back and he had just crossed out everything,” Jonathan Krieger recalled. “He was an editor who was obviously very literate. He also wrote a couple of little books and short stories.” He loved reading, writing and wordplay, both children noted.
His wordsmithing can be traced back to his Brooklyn teen years at Erasmus High School. There, Krieger invented orbisculate for an English assignment to create a word. Most of his classmates soon forgot theirs. Krieger used his. In fact, growing up, the Krieger kids heard the word often in its purest form, when their dad made fresh-squeezed orange juice.
“Our mom mostly did the cooking, but our dad was responsible for the orange juice on the weekends,” Hilary Krieger said. “And so he would say, ‘Oh, it orbisculated on me ….’ It was just a word used in our household.”
Hilary recalled that, as a kid, she used it among her friends and they, too, picked it up. “It never occurred to me ever to question that it was a real word,” she said. “It was very specific. If you were going to have a word for that phenomenon, it would be orbisculate.”
She didn’t learn the truth — that her father made it up — until a college friend was visiting. At breakfast — freshly squeezed orange juice was on the menu — Hilary used orbisculate. Her friend, who was getting an MFA in writing, crowed that wasn’t a word. It came down to a dictionary showdown. The stakes were high: $5.
When she lost, she told her father, “Can you believe we looked in the dictionary and orbisculate isn’t there.” He sheepishly acknowledged the truth. So, Hilary hopes her campaign will allow her to get her $5 back.
What does it take to get a word in the dictionary? Hilary Krieger found out. “I actually consulted with a language expert. There’s a phrase in the dictionary called ‘arbitrary coinage’ — words that don’t have an exact etymological evolution. We learned that the more different ways it gets used, the more likely it will get in the dictionary.”
To that end, the Krieger siblings set up a website (orbisculate.com) enumerating 50 goals to get orbisculate circulating.
Beyond using it in conversation, it needs to become part of the lexicon — consider how “zoom” now has a whole new meaning. Thus, is the word written, used in a play, a comic book, a television commercial, a recipe?
So far it’s appeared in a crossword puzzle, and self-described social media bon vivant Margaret Willson used it in a grapefruit juice-based cocktail with sparkling wine: the Orbisculosa.
Other goals include hearing orbisculate in lyrics to a song, “ideally written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, because if anyone can get a word into a dictionary, it’s that man,” the Kriegers said. It would also help if orbisculate is used in a “Saturday Night Live” sketch and as a name for a Ben and Jerry’s sorbet — grapefruit or citrus flavored, of course.
This homegrown campaign, dubbed Orbisculation Nation, also includes T-shirts, because the Kriegers learned from friends who work in marketing that any good campaign requires merch. All earnings, Jonathan noted, go to the nonprofit Carson’s Village, a family-run charity
that supports people who have lost a loved one by helping them navigate complexities of funeral expenses, death certificates, obituaries and other details.
In remembering her father, Hilary also noted his love and respect for Jewish values. Raised in the Reform movement in the 1960s, Neil Krieger belonged to the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and he patronized Boston businesses specifically to press them to hire African American workers.
While he was a synagogue hopper and didn’t settle on a single congregation for the long term in Boston, Krieger was an avid reader of Jewish thinkers. “He loved Heschel and Buber and he would read a lot of Jewish philosophy,” his daughter said.
While the dictionary campaign pays tribute to their late father, Jonathan said, “This is really about two kids who want to honor their dad during a really hard time. That’s a very universal thing that a lot of people are struggling with right now. I hope what we’re doing can help other people who are going through loss and grief.”
Hilary added: “Obviously we’re really hoping to let people know about this word to get it in the lexicon, but it’s also really important for us and for anybody who comes in contact with our campaign to have some fun. It’s a pretty grim time and we want to do something that feels a bit uplifting.”