The Eudaemonist has a downright TDW-like investigation of the variant spelling “flippertigibbet” (found by her first in the “rotten poetaster” Joyce Kilmer). And while you’re visiting, don’t miss her commentary on Seth Lerer’s Error and the Academic Self (downright Housman-like in its irritable insistence on accuracy) and her succinct demolition of an idiot reviewer (“Uh, Mr. Reviewer, sir? Socrates drinking the poison? Uh, that was submission to the mob…”).


  1. What about “flibbertigibbet” in King Lear?!?!?
        GLOUCESTER: Know’st thou the way to Dover?
        EDGAR: Both stile and gate, horse-way and foot-path.
        Poor Tom hath been scared out of his good wits: bless
        thee, good man’s son, from the foul fiend! five
        fiends have been in poor Tom at once; of lust, as
        Obidicut; Hobbididance, prince of dumbness; Mahu,
        of stealing; Modo, of murder; Flibbertigibbet, of moping
        and mowing, who since possesses chambermaids
        and waiting-women. So, bless thee, master!

  2. And I have a lovely illiterate-person story about Joyce “I think that I shall never taste an orange with quite an apple’s grace” Kilmer – on a small tour of Europe after high school during which I took upon myself the rather pointless task of getting translations of Ulysses & FW into the languages of each country I visited, one of the adult chaperone-types saw me examining one of the books at a cafe one day & decided to quiz me – did I know the poem by Joyce that went “I think that I shall never see a poem lovely as a BLANK” & do I know what the word was? I didn’t know, & thought this seemed a pretty contra-Joycean sentiment. She never told me what the word was. Her married name was Kilmer.

  3. Curiously, in the 1619 Quarto of Lear one finds “Stiberdigebit of Mobing”; no flibbertigibbets (or flippertigibbets, for that matter) appear in the 1623 Folio. Lear’s textual crises are infamous, but it would be interesting to know when in the course of editions the “fli–ertigibbet” appeared.

  4. Well, s is pretty close to f on the keyboard

  5. And anyhow, considering the similarity of the script s & f and t & l (assuming there was a written source), and the fact that flibbertigibbet was a word with prior history while its ‘st’-prefixed variant is (surely) hapax leg., it does seem a pretty damn good guess at the authorial intention.

  6. Well, since the OED’s first citation for “The name of a devil or fiend” is “1603 HARSNET Pop. Impost. x. 49 Frateretto, Fliberdigibbet, Hoberdidance, Tocobatto were foure deuils of the round, or Morrice,” a couple of years before Lear, I’m guessing it was an already existing name and the text was emended accordingly. But I know much less about Shakespeare editions than you learned gentlemen.

  7. Don’t forget “Flipyrgebet” on l. 1725, roughly, in the first quarter of the fifteenth century morality play “The Castle of Perseverance,” preserved in the Folger Shakepeare Library’s Macro manuscript.

  8. dungbettle says

    (slipper ti gibbet) I always thort that it meant that one missed his own hanging; by sliiping the noose;
    slipper: greasy,[ ME slepen]- to escape; ti = to [ accent problem]
    Gibbet [ME gibet gallows]a noose
    as some peoples say such things in one breath
    I thort Edgar meant stop ye moaning, you got away with it, the hanging that is, you murderer you.

  9. BTW, Pop. Impost. stands for “A Declaration of Egregious Popish Impostures, to with-draw the harts of her Maiesties Subiects from their alleagance, and from the truth of Christian religion preferred in England, vunder the pretence of casting out deuils”.
    An amusing little book, apparently.

  10. Interessant, dungbettle. The (Shorter) OED gives the derivation as “[Prob. imit. of meaningless chatter]”, which echoes Weekley (who also gives the earlier variant “flibbergib”). Looks like some serious conflation going on here

  11. Demons, onomatopoeic or no, are not my specialty; which is probably one of the reasons I missed the Folio Flibbertigibbet, as well as those mentioned above from Castle of Perseverance (Flepergebet (775)
    Flypyrgebet (1724) Flepyrgebet (1733)) and Pop. Impost.
    If anyone has evidence, tho’, that the variant flippertigibbet was not a late nineteenth/early twentieth century innovation, for accuracy’s sake I would appreciate learning of it.
    (Incidentally, it was Alexander Pope who emended the quarto’s Stiberdgebit/Sirberdegibit with Flibbertigibbet.)

  12. Ilya Vinarsky says

    The only time I saw this word (before reading your blog today) was in Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five.

  13. dungbeetle says

    “FLIPPERTIGIBBET” my pronouncing it flip-per-ty-gib-it Written or not it was used in the non- sophisticated parts of the old sod as meaning, a gal who was super flighty who did not respect for her betters or her self: Having no OED at that time to refer to;seemed to make sense. Just a rememerance:

  14. It’s usually spelled “flibbertigibbet,” but yes, that’s the general idea.

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