Q: Who put the “d” in “fridge”? If it’s short for “refrigerator,” why isn’t it “frig”?
A: Although most dictionaries list “fridge” as the only spelling for this abbreviated version of “refrigerator,” a few do indeed include the “d”-less version “frig” as a variant spelling.
The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (5th ed.), for example, has only the “fridge” spelling, while Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed.) includes “frig” as a variant.
Some American dictionaries describe the “frig” spelling as British, but all the British dictionaries we’ve checked (Macmillan, Collins, Longman, etc.) list only “fridge” for the short form of “refrigerator.”
Interestingly, the earliest written example for the term in the Oxford English Dictionary uses the “frig” spelling (plus an apostrophe). In fact, five of the eight OED examples spell the term without the “d” (some with and some without the apostrophe).
The first “frig” citation in Oxford is from E. F. Spanner’s 1926 novel Broken Trident: “Best part of our stuff here is chilled, and with no ’frig plant working, the mercury will climb like a rocket.”
However, a reader of the blog has informed us of earlier examples of “frig” and the plural “friges” as shortened forms of “refrigerator.”
S. Wilding Cole uses both terms several times in “The Cleansing of a Brewery,” a paper presented on March 13, 1916, at a meeting in London of the local chapter of the Institute of Brewing.
In a section on the maintenance of refrigerators, for example, Cole says “most brewers know that unless ‘friges’ and mains are kept thoroughly clean, trouble is bound to ensue.”
The earliest “fridge” cite in the OED is from Frame-Up, a 1935 crime novel by Collin Brooks: “Do you mean that you keep a dead body in a fridge waiting for the right moment to bring her out?”
The OED has examples of “frig” from as recently as 1960. Here’s one from The Quiet American, the 1955 novel by Graham Greene: “We haven’t a frig—we send out for ice.”
Although “fridge” is either the only spelling or the preferred one in the eight US or UK dictionaries we checked, a bit of googling finds that “frig” is not exactly cooling its heels today. Here are just a few of the many examples posted over the last year:
“Frig not cooling, freezer is fine” … “Looking for built-in frig with crushed ice / water dispenser” … “Frig not cold anymore. What can i do?” … “Freezer works but frig not cold” … “Freezer Semi Cold, Frig Warm.”
A similarly spelled verb, “frig,” which most dictionaries describe as vulgar slang, has more to do with heating than cooling. It means to have sexual intercourse or masturbate. (The present participle, “frigging,” is often used as an intensifier.)
How are all these frigging words pronounced? Well, the verb “frig” rhymes with “prig,” but the nouns spelled “frig” and “fridge” both rhyme with “bridge.” And “frigging” rhymes with “digging,” though it’s often spelled and pronounced friggin’.
The OED describes “fridge” as a colloquial abbreviation for “refrigerator,” a much older term that showed up in the early 1600s. It suggests that the ‘frig’ spelling may have been influenced by the brand name “Frigidaire” (a play on “frigid air”).
“Oxford, an etymological dictionary based on historical evidence, also notes that an 1886 edition of John Russell Bartlett’s Dictionary of Americanisms includes the short form “frigerator.”
We’d add that the company now known as Frigidaire was called the Guardian Frigerator Company when it was founded in Fort Wayne, Ind., in 1916.
The company adopted the name “Frigidaire” in 1919, three years after “frig” and “friges” were used in the brewery paper cited above. So the brand name “Frigidaire” may have influenced the usage, but it couldn’t have been the source.
We can’t tell from the published examples in the OED (or some earlier ones in Google Books) who originated the “frig” and “fridge” spellings. But we can speculate about why “fridge” has become the dominant spelling.
First of all, the natural pronunciation of “fridge” matches the way the second syllable sounds in “refrigerator.”
Although “frig” is pronounced the same way as “fridge” when it means a refrigerator, the natural pronunciation of “frig” would be like that of the naughty verb we mentioned above.
Our guess is that English speakers generally prefer the “fridge” spelling because they instinctively pronounce it the way the letters f-r-i-g sound in “refrigerator.”
We’ll end with a few lines from Ray Charles’s recording of Louis Jordan’s blues hit “I’m Gonna Move to the Outskirts of Town”:
“Let me tell you, honey
We gonna move away from here
I don’t need no iceman
I’m gonna get you a Frigidaire.”
[Note: This post was updated on Aug. 3, 2019.]