This is another long-shot question, but I figure it’s worth a try. Over at Wordorigins, Theopolis asks about the word flist, which occurs twice on p. 106 of the Rev. T. P. Crawford’s “A System of Phonetic Symbols for Writing the Dialects of China” (Chinese Recorder XIX:3 [March 1888]). Here’s the passage:

3. The tone signs are as follows:—Ping shing, a plain character; Shang shing, a hook or flist to the right. K’u shing, a hook or flist to the left; Yi shing, a dot in the centre.

You can see the tone signs themselves on p. 108. Now, there is a Scots word flist ‘explosion; sudden outburst of rage; brag, boast, fib; blow, smack,’ but that doesn’t seem like it could be relevant here. Naturally one suspects a typo, but of what? “Fist” is a typographical sign, but surely not here. Any ideas?


  1. Jen in Edinburgh says

    ‘fl’ has been printed as a ligature, which made me wonder if the wrong ligature had been used by mistake – but I can’t see anything likely.

  2. Jen in Edinburgh says

    However, he had a good beard.

    Plus he calculated that the world was 14,376 year old (an advance on Ussher), and that the population of the garden of Eden was 1,174,405,120. (I thought it was 2, and then 0, unless we’re counting angels with flaming swords?)

  3. That’s the kind of beard that makes my wife glare at me and say “Don’t even think about it!”

  4. My guess: “flick” (i.e. of the brush or pen).

  5. David Eddyshaw says

    Entirely possible, given that “ideographic” (presumably) on p101 appears as “idioysophic.”

    (“Idiosophic” strikes me as a word with potential, though. Useful for describing those with formidable intellect and no common sense whatsoever. Examples abound.)

  6. Jen in Edinburgh says

    Yes, I had a look through lists of 4 and 5 letter words ending in -ist and starting with fli-, and ‘twist’ (as mentioned on the wordorigins thread) and ‘flick’ were the only two that seemed to make much sense. ‘Tw’ doesn’t seem to have ever been set as a ligature, so it’s hard to see how it would get in by mistake, but -st for -ck could be plain misreading of careless handwriting.

  7. PlasticPaddy says

    Are there any samples of T.P. Crawford’s handwriting? He strikes me as someone who would have had an extensive correspondence.

  8. David Marjanović says

    That beard is a bit thin.

    But more interesting is “his conversion to Christianity at the age of sixteen”. What was he before that, in the 1830s in Kentucky? Or is the “conversion” just when he ‘accepted Jesus Christ as his personal savior’?

  9. twist? flect?

  10. Jen in Edinburgh says

    I think that’s why I like it – more a waterfall than a wild bush.

  11. There are several entries for flist in Wright’s English Dialect Dictionary:


    The definition “a fillip, a smart stroke” seems relevant, like “blow, smack” in the Dictionary of the Scots Language linked to above.

    I am away from my library at the moment—maybe another LH reader could check the Dictionary of American Regional English for us, since Crawford was from Kentucky—perhaps the word entered the US through Scots-Irish immigration to the region.

  12. David Eddyshaw says

    Or is the “conversion” just when he ‘accepted Jesus Christ as his personal savior’?

    Almost certainly, I’d have thought. Evangelical nerdview.


  13. J.W. Brewer says

    From the introduction to a posthumous edition of one of his books:

    “In the spring of 1837,” Dr. Crawford later recalled, “I professed religion at home under the instruction of my mother . . . and in July was baptized into the fellowship of Sinking Springs Church . . . I felt called to the ministry from the day of my conversion, but made a seven years’ struggle against the impression.”

  14. Jen in Edinburgh says

    There’s a wonderful string of names in there – Sinking Springs Church, Big Hatchie Baptist Association, Big Black Creek Baptist Church…

  15. he does use the almost-equally-fascinating “quirl” for another type of stroke…

    not to sound like one of those “every word is secretly an anagram” guys, but did anyone else come up with the probably-insane idea that it could have been a very short-lived and very specific abbreviation for “flick of the wrist”?

  16. The Century Dictionary (a great complement to the OED) has flisk (Scottish) ‘A sudden spring or turn; a caper a whim’, but no flist. I find solace in fliskmahoy (Scot.), also fliskmahaigo ‘a giddy, ostentatious person’; and flitch ‘A steak from the side of a halibut, smoked or ready for smoking’.

  17. @Y: I think the original meaning of flitch is a slab or board cut from the outside of a log. However, there seems to be a number of meanings involving cuts of meat that have been derived by analogy. Wikipedia has a page entitled “Flitch of bacon custom,” which begins:

    The awarding of a flitch of bacon [1] to married couples who can swear to not having regretted their marriage for a year and a day is an old tradition, the remnants of which still survive in some pockets in England.

    And the footnote is:

    A flitch is the side, or a steak cut from the side, of an animal or fish. The term now usually occurs only in connection with a side of salted and cured pork in the phrase a flitch of bacon.

  18. I think, Franz List
    Or flea and tryst
    Or flask and mist
    Or fast flautist.

  19. he does use the almost-equally-fascinating “quirl” for another type of stroke

    This is a very interesting observation, AG! The OED labels quirl “A coil; a twist or curl,” as “U.S. regional (chiefly southern)”.

  20. If it’s only U.S., maybe it’s a loan from German Quirl / quirlen “whisk / to whisk”?

  21. [Tarleton Perry Crawford] calculated that the world was 14,376 year old (an advance on Ussher), and that the population of the garden of Eden was 1,174,405,120. (I thought it was 2, and then 0, unless we’re counting angels with flaming swords?)

    That number is an acknowledged estimate, and is based on a amusingly heterodox exegesis: All of the patriarchs listed as having extremely long lives — approaching a millennium — did not in fact do so. Rather, those large numbers refer to the lengths of reigns of dynasties; the patriarchs themselves only lived to a maximum of 187, and — he estimates — their population doubled every 33⅓ years. Eden was not a mostly uninhabited garden; it was a primordial empire based in Canaan/Israel.

    And so on and so forth, his book is linked to from his Wiki page.

  22. Hm.

    I wonder if the word could have been “flirt”? Nowadays, the term is more used to indicate people interacting in a suggestive way, but the OED does have:

    n. A sudden jerk or movement, a quick throw or cast, a darting motion.


    v. t. To give a brisk, sudden motion to; to flick.

    v. i. To move with a jerk or spring; to spring, dart.

  23. I wonder, would a submission to the “Chinese Recorder” in 1888 have been typewritten, or would it have been a literally handwritten manuscript? It certainly seems to me that “s” and “r” in script are much more likely to be confused.

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