The word “frindle” is a symbol of innovation. In the story, Nick learns that innovation is an uphill battle—but one well worth fighting.
Nick is not an ordinary fifth grader. He is wily and smart, and kind of sneaky. He is not fond of the homework language arts teacher Mrs. Granger gives out, so he tries to distract her by asking her why she likes dictionaries so much. This leads him to investigate how new words are made. He learns that they are made by ordinary people, and a thing has a name because that’s what people call it.
Nick decides to get back at Mrs. Granger with a little experiment. He wants to start calling pens “frindles” and see if it sticks. It does. Mrs. Granger reacts as expected—she fights the new word with everything she has. She requires every kid in the school who uses the word to stay after school as a punishment.
Nick discovers that innovation comes at a price. Not everyone is happy with the new word. Yet soon enough, it is used regularly. He becomes a hero and appears on national talk shows. Eventually, it is not a novelty, but just a regular word.
The word frindle follows the cycle of innovation. First the idea, and then the early adopeters—Nick’s friends, bring the word to life. Then there is resistance from the established ideas, shown through Mrs. Granger’s fight for the word to pen, out of respect for the dictionary.
The] dictionary was worked on by hundreds of very smart people for many years, so as far as we are concerned, that dictionary is the law. Laws can change, of course, but only if they need to. (ch 5, p. 31)
Yet Nick finds out years later that Mrs. Granger was actually trying to fight for the word by fighting against it. She gave it the publicity to really go somewhere, and it did—into the dictionary.
Like all innovations, Nick's idea needed a sponsor. Mrs. Granger and Bud Lawrence, the marketer, made his idea big.