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Frick and Frack

Q From Kevin Mcgrath: Do you know where the phrase Frick and Frack originated? I’m sure it wasn’t because of the Back Street Boys.

A Frick and Frack remains a fairly common one in North America for any two people who are closely linked in some way, especially through a work partnership. The Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang cites it as being Black English, but it certainly has a much wider circulation than that.

For example, this appeared in The Atlanta Journal and Constitution in April 2005: “And where had all his old friends gone? You know, he and Woods used to be as close as Frick and Frack.” Or this from the Palm Beach Post in August the previous year: “Goss called himself and Graham the ‘Frick and Frack’ of congressional intelligence and won high marks for helping shepherd the contentious inquiry in the face of White House resistance.” So it’s reasonable enough that Brian and Nick of the Back Street Boys should use the nicknames Frick and Frack for each other.

The origin is ultimately and undoubtedly in a famous partnership of Swiss comedy ice skaters, Werner Groebli and Hans Mauch, whose stage names these were. They came to public fame in the later years of a series of skating spectaculars called Ice Follies, promoted by Eddie Shipstad and his brother Roy, which began in 1936 and ran for almost 50 years. Their association lasted so long, and they were at one time so well known, that their names have gone into the language.

Michael Mauch, the son of Hans, told me in a personal message about the origin of their names: “Frick took his name from a small village in Switzerland; Frack is a Swiss-German word for a frock coat, which my father used to wear in the early days of their skating act. They put the words together as a typical Swiss joke.”

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Page created 05 Feb 2000; Last updated 26 Jun 2005