Family Wants Late Dad’s Made-Up Word, “Orbisculate,” In Dictionary To Honor His Memory

orbisculate kriegler family quest dictionary

There’s a wonderful word out there that’s not yet in circulation, describing what happens when you put a spoon into a grapefruit and the juice gets in your eye.

That word, “orbisculate,” was coined by Neil Kriegler, and now his family is trying to honor his memory by getting the word into the world.

Kriegler died of complications from COVID-19 last year, and two of his adult children, Hilary and John Kriegler, are looking to get it into popular use.

Though an NPR host covering their story noted, “It did make it into Urban Dictionary, the one that matters,” they’re aiming higher.

“I was trying to tell people about my dad and how he was really funny, creative and very original and always could see the humor and the bright side of the situation. I kept on coming back to the word orbisculate as a way to sort of capture that,” Hilary Krieger, Neil’s daughter, told CNN. “There’s something about creating this word that just felt like it captured him and it was really fun.”

Hilary, who works as a opinion editor at NBC News, and her brother Jonathan, who runs a company hosting virtual trivia nights, have taken on the unusual quest in part to deal with the grief of losing their father.

The quest to get “orbisculate” into the dictionary is more about the journey than the destination, the CNN author wrote, adding Hilary’s observation that it’s “something her father would appreciate” as a former scientist.

How would you use the word? Jonathan proposed something along the lines of, “I made a mistake dressing up before I ate a grapefruit. It ended up orbisculating on my shirt and now I have to change.”

But how did the word come to be?

When Neil was a college student at Cornell University in the 1950s, he had an assignment for a course in which he had to create a word, and “orbsiculate” is what he arrived at.

He kept it alive by sharing it with his family and using it, and it wasn’t until Hilary used it later in life with a college friend that she learned the truth: That it was a word exclusive to her family.

They’ve even created a website celebrating the word that includes merchandise and a blog post covering similar stories of words that families have coined.


While they do have an online petition where they’re collecting signatures to share with dictionary powers-that-be, they’re also encouraging people to use the word (both the verb and the noun form, orbisculation) in their own lives.

As they note, pepperoni being cut on a pizza, yogurt trapped in a yogurt container, and other waywardly-spraying food items can orbisculate—it’s not just a citrus phenomenon.

“A new word gets into the dictionary when it’s been used by enough people in enough places,” they advise. “So just say the word today — in a conversation, in an email, in a tweet, however you like — and you’ll already be making a difference.”

Written by Phil West