frai-ê-bêl • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: Crumbly, brittle, fragile, easily broken up or broken into small pieces.
Notes: Even though many things, like potato chips, become friable when you fry them, today's Good Word is not semantically related to fry. It is difficult even for the good doctor to imagine a situation where this adjective could be used as an adverb, but the noun is either friability (my favorite) or friableness, the state of a friable object. So what do you call something that can be fried? "Something that can be fried" is all the dictionaries allow us, but fryable is all over the Web and, I bet, a lot of people say it, too.
In Play: Friability usually implies fragility, not the brittleness of peanut brittle: "Ludwig found that all the papers he had stored for years in the attic had yellowed and become very friable." Since things friable are brittle and tend to fall apart on contact, this word may be used figuratively with anything that may be perceived as fragile: "Marjorie's proposal turned out to be rather friable under close scrutiny." Marjorie's proposal could also be friable because it is easily broken into separate pieces or subplans.
Word History: Friable is a word we borrowed from the French, who inherited it from Latin friabilis with the same meaning. This adjective is based on the verb friare "to crumble into pieces". The root, fri, evolved from Proto-Indo-European bhrei-/bhri- "to cut, pierce" which also turns up in Welsh briw "cut, wound" and brwydr "battle", Irish bhearradh "shave", Russian brit' "to shave" and britva "razor, Serbian brijati "to shave", Albanian brisk "razor", and English break. (Today we would like to sincerely thank Luciano Eduardo de Oliveira, Jeremy Busch, and Mary Jane Stoneburg, who diligently serve as the editorial board for our Good Words. I, of course, remain solely responsible for any remaining errors.)
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