The Frim-Fram Sauce

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"The Frim-Fram Sauce" is a jazz song, made famous by The Nat King Cole Trio and performed by a variety of musicians over the years. "The Frim-Fram Sauce" was written in 1945. The lyrics were written by Redd Evans, who wrote words to a number of Cole songs. The music was composed by Joe Ricardel, known as the co-writer of the "Brooklyn Dodger Jump", among others.

"The Frim Fram Sauce" is best remembered for its silly lyrics. The narrator speaks to a waiter in a restaurant, as if in the process of ordering food. Throughout the song, the customer lists numerous real foods that he doesn't want, such as pork chops and fish cakes. In the chorus, he explains what he really wants: some "frim fram sauce" with the "oss and fay" /ˈɒs.nˌf/ with "shifafa" /ʃəˈfɑːfə/ on the side. (The spelling is uncertain; we could instead have "oss'n'fay" or "ussinfay" /ˈʌs.nˌf/), and "shafafa.") At the end, the narrator character says: "If you don't have it, just bring me a check for the water!" This may be interpreted as the character performing a scam: he wanted the water (which is customarily served free to customers at restaurants before they order), and makes up nonsense words for dishes as he has no intention of really ordering anything (which he would have to pay for), and he knows that he will not be charged for the water.

Although considered a novelty song, "The Frim Fram Sauce" has nonetheless endured as a memorable tune of its era. It has been performed by numerous artists including Ella Fitzgerald (with Louis Armstrong), Slim and Slam (Slim Gaillard and Slam Stewart), Les Brown, John Pizzarelli, Diana Krall, who included the song in both her 1993 debut album Stepping Out as well as her 1996 Nat King Cole tribute album, All For You, and Mandy Mann (2005). American blues guitarist Bob Brozman also included a version of the song, with somewhat revised lyrics on his 2007 album, Post-Industrial Blues. The song was also performed on the American Idol TV show in 2002 by Ryan Starr. Deana Martin recorded "The Frim Fram Sauce" on her 2013 album Destination Moon.

A plausible etymology and meanings for two of the three strange food terms in the lyrics – which the lyrics writers may or may not simply have made up as nonsense terms – were given in an article[1] by etymologist-philologist William Safire published in 2002:

  • frim fram is an alteration of "flim(-)flam," meaning "insignificant stuff" or "nonsense"
  • ussin-fay is pig Latin for "fussin'," playing about fretfully

As mentioned in Safire's article, the food terms, especially the third term, "shafafa", are often interpreted as having a sexual meaning or innuendo. Look in Haussa dictionary for "rice" which is either shinkafa or shinfafa. Charles Henry Robinson; William Henry Brooks; Hausa Association, London (1899). Dictionary of the Hausa Language: Hausa–English. The University Press. Retrieved 25 August 2012.


  1. ^ Safire, William (3 May 2002). "Our lyrical language: William Safire on the symbiosis between the spoken and the sung". The Guardian (originally published in The New York Times the same year). Retrieved 13 January 2012.