A correspondent writes:

…here’s an interesting word, not found in the OED, which I came across in the lyrics of the old sea song “Rant and Roar,” specifically one of the Newfoundland versions.

“I went to a dance one night at Fox Harbour;
there were plenty of girls, so nice as you’d wish;
There was one pretty maiden a-chawin’ of frankgum
just like a young kitten a-gnawing fresh fish.”

The OED doesn’t have “frankgum” but the meaning is clearly “spruce gum,” since “frankincense” can also refer to spruce gum or other related resins, and if “frank-incense” then why not “frank-gum?” Still, I wonder if your distinguished readership has ever encountered this usage.

(You can find the full lyrics here; the word also turns up here under “Cuts”: “probably cuttin’ frankgum off a junk or something like that.”) So, distinguished readers: anybody know this word?


  1. misteraitch says

    It’s not something I’ve ever heard my (Newfie) in-laws mention, but it is listed in the Dictionary of Newfoundland English.

  2. Bingo! And it turns out the “gum” part is pure folk etymology. Thanks a million!

  3. pluiepoco says

    because frank=franc, the German branch once live in Gaul: An ancient region of western Europe south and west of the Rhine River, west of the Alps, and north of the Pyrenees, corresponding roughly to modern-day France and Belgium. The Romans extended the designation to include northern Italy, particularly after Julius Caesar’s conquest of the area in the Gallic Wars (58-51 b.c.).

    and while spruce=Prussia, A historical region and former kingdom of north-central Europe including present-day northern Germany and Poland. Its ancient inhabitants, of Baltic stock, were conquered by the Teutonic Knights in the 13th century. West Prussia was ceded to Poland in 1466, and East Prussia became a Polish fief that passed to Brandenburg in 1618. The kingdom of Prussia was proclaimed in 1701 and was greatly expanded and fortified by Emperor Frederick II (reigned 1740-1786). Prussia was instrumental in the unification of Germany, and in 1871 its king was declared Emperor William I of Germany. The state became a republic in 1918 and was formally abolished after World War II.

    The word replace spruce by frank, just because that spruce and frank are base of the same origin.

  4. Going Dotty in Kansas says

    ooh! — For once I restrained myself from reading all your wonderful entry links and decided to concoct a meaning for “frankgum”. In my experience, the old herbals, receipts, and other references to The Useful Plants all seem to conflate gums, resins, rosins, balsams, mastics,and incenses — it immediately struck me that “frankgum” was likely a local variant of “frankincense”, a rather loosely-used term to describe any fragrant or palatable tree sap. I wasn’t aware of Newfoundlanders or New Englanders or Native Americans chewing tree sap, but it wouldn’t surprise me at all, because there are many cultures that did, or still do, make use of tree saps for chewing. The link to the dictionary neatly solved the riddle! Wonderful!

  5. xiaolongnu says

    Yes, in fact, it’s quite common to chew spruce gum in the north woods. Bit of an acquired taste, if you ask me, but very traditional. Thanks misteraitch for the dictionary link!

  6. My experience of that kind of thing is that it tastes good but sticks to your teeth too much. I’m not sure which kind of evergreen it was, probably Douglas fir.

  7. Evelyn Blackwood says

    Well it seems some people are unaware that there is such a thing as frankgum. I have chewed frankgum as many other Newfoundlanders have. Not as a remedy but for the sake of chewing gum. Growing up in a small town going to a shop and buying gum was not always possible, but going in the woods and getting frankgum was a thing to do and enjoyed by many.

  8. David Marjanović says

    And it turns out the “gum” part is pure folk etymology.

    But, 17 years later, how would frankincense with [ns] ever turn into frankumsence with [ms]?

  9. Yup I grew up chewing Franklgum.

  10. Chewing sticky sap (kvae f.) was very much a thing also here at the westernmost fringe of the taiga belt. Where I live, the dialect form koe famously came to mean “chewing gum” by semantic extension. Not anymore, but it’s still used ironic-nostalgically by people born around 1980.

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