Last summer, my motorbike threw a nut. (What? A mid-Sixties British bike threw a nut? Unheard of!)
I was out in the field at the time, and as the nut in question held half of my handlebar on, I stopped in at a local garage to see what their mechanic could do. I know (oh, God, do I know!) that the standard of measurement for bikes of that era was the Whitworth standard, which was neither metric nor feet-and-inches, but rather something unique to British industry of the time. A Whitworth-standard nut is about as unlikely to be found in a modern American garage as a replacement carburetor for a Stutz Bearcat, but perhaps something could be done to help me limp home.
The mechanic, a very personable gentleman of the Southern persuasion, helped as much as he could. He found a nut that nearly (but of course not exactly) fit my handlebar. He put it in place carefully, torquing the thing so it would stay in place for a few miles, but not so forcefully that it would strip the bolt. He said, in his Virginia drawl, "Ah'm puttin' it on jes' so's you can git home. Couldn't tighten it too much, don't wanna booger up 'em freds."
(He meant "threads," of course.)
It's funny, isn't it, how a single utterance can stay with you. At first, it struck me only as a funny regional locution. But as the days wore on, it began to melt into my vocabulary and become a catch-all expression denoting pretty much any cock-up. Freddie trips and falls while defending at a soccer game: "Aw, man! He boogered up the freds!" Wonder Woman asks me for tech support on her computer: "Not having the latest Flash Player's gonna booger up the freds, every time. Let's download." Punt bounces off Antoine Randle-El's facemask -- again: "Jesus Christ, when are the Redskins gonna stop boogerin' up the goddamned freds?" The entire Bush administration seemed hell-bent on boogerin' up the freds with every thought, word and gesture.
I suppose the funniest thing about it is that I'm absolutely the only person on Earth to whom the phrase has the tiniest inkling of meaning. It was my motorbike, my hearing the phrase as funny, my brain applying it to every other life-circumstance, and if I were to come up to some stranger and warn this person that some contemplated action would be sure to booger up the freds, that person would be well justified in looking askance. Such is the fate of the linguistic solipsist.
But I do think the phrase deserves preservation. To that end, I have composed a hymn, to be sung in times when it seems the entire human race is intent on boogerin' up the freds. To the tune of "Gath'ring In the Sheaves" -- shall we, everybody?
Boog'rin' up the freds
Boog'rin' up the freds
We shall come rejoicing,
Boog'rin' up the freds!