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Is ‘orbisculate’ a word? The late Neil Krieger’s children want it to be.

Can you guess what it means? Use it in a sentence, please.

What's the fruit doing in this picture? That's right; it's orbisculating.Joni van Waardhuizen - stock.adobe.com

It’s happened to so many of us.

You’re eating a citrus fruit. Perhaps it’s a grapefruit.

You dig in, it lashes out at you and the juice flies into your eye.

When it happened to them as kids in Jamaica Plain, Jonathan and Hilary Krieger would say the fruit had “orbisculated.”

As in, “to orbisculate.” Meaning, “to accidentally squirt juice and/or pulp into one’s eye, as from a grapefruit when using a spoon to scoop out a section for eating.”

It wasn’t until the siblings were older that they learned “orbisculate” was not a real word.

Hilary Krieger, now 43 and an editor for NBC News’s THINK, was 24 when she used it with a friend who’d just studied at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.


“We were eating fruit – I believe it was oranges – and I said, it ‘orbisculated on you,’” Krieger remembers. “[The friend] was like, ‘That’s not a word. ... My first feeling was pity. Like, this is going to be embarrassing when he finds out that this is a word.”

They bet $5, and opened a dictionary.

“I’m looking and I’m looking ... and it’s not there,” Krieger said.

This discovery led her and her younger brother, Jonathan, into their dad’s office.

“I was like, Dad, what is wrong with this dictionary?,” Krieger said. “And he gave a sheepish look. He was like, ‘Well, technically, ‘orbisculate’ is not really a word.”

But it could be.

Neil Krieger was a scientist and entrepreneur. After 20 years teaching neuroscience at the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard medical schools, he founded West Rock Associates, a biotech grant recruitment firm. He was committed to civil rights activism, and was involved with the Boston chapter of CORE (Congress of Racial Equality).

Krieger died of complications from COVID-19 on April 29. He was 78.


Now his adult children are on a mission. They want “orbisculate” added to the dictionary, to honor their father. (Also, it’s a perfectly useful intransitive verb, they say.) They’ve launched a website with a petition to dictionary editors. They’re also selling selling T-shirts with the word on them; all proceeds benefit Carson’s Village, an organization that helps families with resources right after a loss (the group does everything from helping to coordinate burials to setting up obituaries, for free).

The Krieger family – Neil, Susan, Jonathan, and Hilary – at the book release party for "Odd Jobs: One Man's Life Working Every Gig He Could Find, from Bathroom Attendant to Bikini Model," a 2019 book by Jonathan Krieger.Courtesy of The Kriegers

Jonathan Krieger, 35, now in Brookline, who runs the online game company Long Distance Trivia, said his family had resources and community to help them through the process when his dad died, but worry about those who have to navigate the system with less. “We wanted to do a charity that would help people who are grieving, themselves.”

The new project has been a bright spot for the siblings. They have great expectations. Asked how many people have signed the petition, Jonathan Krieger said reported, “We have a sort of estimate [of] 2 million ... but it might be 150.”

The more people use the word, the better chance they have, he added.

The website also lists 50 goals the siblings have for the word.

Goal No. 3 is to get “orbisculate” into “the lyrics of a song. Ideally one written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, because if anyone can get a word into a dictionary, it’s that man.” Goal No. 8: for the word to be used “by any of the following celebrities: CNN anchor Don Lemon, fictional 30 Rock character Liz Lemon, or Syracuse University mascot Otto the Orange.”


The "orbisculate" T-shirt. Dictionary worthy, say the Kriegers.Courtesy of the Kriegers

The last line of Neil Krieger’s obituary reads, “In lieu of flowers, please take a walk around Jamaica Pond, give a loved one your biggest hug and live your life in radical amazement.”

But you can also lobby for “orbisculate.” Tell a friend.

Meredith Goldstein can be reached at Meredith.Goldstein@Globe.com.