At the memorial service for my late uncle, Harold Parke Bergeson, Hal’s son Tom mentioned a word that I hadn’t ever heard spoken outside of my birth family and hadn’t heard at all for at least 50 years. In fact, the only person I ever heard use the word was Hal’s brother, Robert, my dad. In our house, the word was used to encourage my siblings and I to eat something on the table that might not have been a favorite food. Listening to Tom, I got the sense that Hal may have had an expanded definition of the word, possibly to persuade his boys that the imminent chore or physical activity would edify their performance or stimulate their development. Delayed gratification would be a good thing to teach your children, right?
So, what might the word be, you ask? The word is “spizzerinctum“, as in the following sentence, “It’s good for your spizzerinctum!” Sound familiar? I’m not surprised if you didn’t raise your hand. But when we were kids, we thought the spizzerinctum was a human organ and we’d be starving it if we didn’t eat what was in front of us. Not good. We believed our dad, after all, because as a man of the cloth, he wouldn’t lead us down an unholy path. (Or would he?)
During the service, Uncle Hal’s grandchildren, their spouses and their children, were given t-shirts to celebrate an annual family event called “Grandma Camp” that their grandparents, Hal and Bev, held at their Wisconsin Rapids home each summer. On the front of the shirts were the words “Team Grandma Camp” and “It’s good for your spizzerinctum!” The photo at the top of this post shows all 32 of them proudly sporting their new duds. They made a pilgrimage to the ancestral home along the banks of the Wisconsin River in sub-freezing temps to take this shot. And now there are several dozen more humans on the planet who are spreading the use of this strange word!
At the reception after the service, my sister and I were chatting with Tom’s brothers, Steve and Jim, and we told them we were surprised to hear someone else use a word we hadn’t heard in years. They had the same response we did. They thought they were the only ones who had ever heard this word and were surprised to find someone else who knew about it. As we talked, I began to think that maybe this was a novel word created by our grandfather, Ragnvald Duesund Bergeson. He had a sly, humerous streak in him and he had some notions about nutrition that were foreign to us, so maybe this was a game he came up with to beguile his boys, Harold, Robert and Norman, to do something outside their comfort zone while having a little fun with them.
I decided that I would do some online sleuthing when I got home to find out if this was an actual word or just a bit of poetic license propagated by Grandpa Ragnvald. Turns out that spizzerinctum (usually spelled with only one “z”) is a word that has been used for more than a century in this country, but has never been officially canonized by the language guardians. It’s unlikely that you will ever find it in a dictionary; I know that I haven’t yet. It usually signifies guts, nerve, backbone or determination or zeal. Other times it can have somewhat little lighter meaning such as vitality or vigor. (However, I haven’t found any mention of nutritional or medicinal properties! Either we misunderstand our dad or he twisted the meaning somewhat to fit his purposes.)
I found a fascinating discussion of spizzerinctum and (another unofficially sanctioned word, huckledebuck) in a podcast called “A Way with Words” hosted by Grant Barrett. If you’d like to listen to it, just click on this link: 1367-Caller-Randy-Spizerinctum-And-Huckledebuck .
So now we know that Grandpa Ragnvald didn’t invent the word, but it’s use in our family originated with him. Every time that I find a new story involving Ragnvald (or Ray as everyone in Chicago knew him), I think that I must have exhausted the breadth of his legacy. And yet, I’m pretty sure there are more gems still to be discovered. I’ll keep looking.