Every year new words and new meanings for old words are added to the dictionary. Recent additions included shortened words such as “vax” and new verbs such as “gaslight” which were previously only used as nouns. Next year’s additions may include a contribution from my wife. She uses the proper noun “Frankenstein” as a verb. For instance:
Me: “I’m ready to start on the shelves you wanted in the garage, here’s a sketch.”
Her: “It looks good. Don’t Frankenstein them like you did with the basement shelves.
I didn’t rush her for the precise meaning of this new verb, but, given its usual context, a working definition might look like this:
“Frankenstein: A process in which a husband tinkers with mismatched barn scraps to produce a crude object that works but looks nothing like what his wife had in mind.”
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The “Franken” prefix, first used to describe GMO tomatoes as Frankenfood, is already in some dictionaries. At the college where I taught, our department created a computer lab by salvaging a variety of old hardware from other labs that were being upgraded. The students immediately dubbed it the Frankenlab. It cost us nothing and proved ideal for two of our courses, but it was never illustrated in any of the glossy brochures sent out to prospective students.
This prefix has been applied to many of my home improvement projects. The Frankenfence I erected around the shrubs last fall kept deer out, but it was nothing like the vine-covered examples Peter Rabbit encountered. A picnic table I made three years ago withstood a direct hit from a falling hickory, but quickly became a Frankentable. It languishes in the barn, gathering dust, waiting to be taken apart so its parts can be used in a future Frankensteining.
My main criteria for such projects are sustainability and the availability of raw materials. I know how to make shelves solid and level. I have no idea how to make them “rustic” or “quaint”. And even if I figured out how to make quaint shelves, I could never keep up with my wife’s ability to see inner beauty in almost everything. For example, she thinks opossums, especially babies, are “cute.” It would never have occurred to me that a creature that looks like a prehistoric rat put together by Tim Burton could or should look adorable.
A few of my finished products, while receiving the usual post-mortem list of defects, have been deemed worthy of a name that doesn’t start with Franken. Our vegetable garden is surrounded by an 8 foot fence of wire and trellis with a heavy creaking gate. No one would call her pretty, but I suppose she has a forbidding presence appropriate to her function. She called it “the stalag”.
I used to think that the big differences between my wife’s aesthetic vision and my apparent blindness were ingrained in our DNA, the way birds can see five colors but dogs only two. But that would mean that men and women are different species, a hypothesis that could explain many other mysteries, if only it were true. And there are signs that after 40 years of marriage, I may just be starting to learn how to avoid Frankenstein’s curse.
My two most recent projects, a measuring spoon counter cart and a birdseed bin, seem to have avoided the Franken prefix.
However, if the verb ever makes it into the dictionary, there will still be plenty of items in our barn that could serve as illustrations.