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Crizzling

Pronounced /ˈkrɪz(ə)lɪŋ/Help with pronunciation

The last issue contained a reference to Robert Macfarlane’s book Landmarks, which details the results of his long search for the language of landscape and natural phenomena. Crizzling is one member of his collection.

It appears in the entry for fizmer — which he says is the rustling noise that is produced in grass by petty agitations of the wind, but which the English Dialect Dictionary of a century ago defines as “to fidget restlessly; to make a great stir about trifles, to make little progress” — with other words that he suggests are imitative of the sounds they represent, such as susurrus, a low soft whispering or rustling sound. He writes that crizzling is the action of frost forming on water. Though he doesn’t make it explicit, putting it with the others suggests that it describes the faint crackling sound you can sometimes hear when ice forms.

It’s a dialect word, best known from Northamptonshire, though the English Dialect Dictionary records it from Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, and Leicestershire as well. Its most famous appearances, two of the few in print before modern times, are in poems by John Clare of Northamptonshire, called the Peasant Poet because he wrote in spare time from working as a farm labourer. His Address to Plenty of 1821 has “View the hole the boys have broke, / Crizzling, still inclin’d to freeze — / And the rime upon the trees.” In another poem, The Woodman, he wrote that “The white frost ’gins crizzle pond and brook.”

These are evocative images that don’t suggest sound but rather the physical change that Professor Macfarlane defined. The few other definitions that exist don’t mention noise either. The English Dialect Dictionary says the verb crizzle means “to become rough on the surface, as water when it begins to freeze” and “To grow hard and rough with heat; to crisp, to make rough with drought or heat.” The Oxford English Dictionary’s definition is similar, to “roughen or crumple the surface” of something.

The word has vanished from dialect, but it lives on in a specialist term that seems to have arisen around the end of the nineteenth century. Crizzled glass, also called sick glass, is the bane of museum conservators. Salts can leach out of old glass that hadn’t been made with the correct ingredients. They can form a crust on the surface that clouds and roughens it, or may generate a network of fine cracks that may cause the glass to fall apart.

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 4 Apr. 2015

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The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

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Last modified: 4 April 2015.