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Flibbertigibbet is a Middle English word referring to a flighty or whimsical person, usually a young woman. In modern use, it is used as a slang term, especially in Yorkshire, for a gossipy or overly talkative person.


Its origin is in a meaningless representation of chattering.[1]

In literature and culture[edit]

This word also has a historical use as a name for a fiend, devil or spirit. In Shakespeare's King Lear (IV, i (1605)), he is one of the five fiends Edgar (in the posture of a beggar, Tom o' Bedlam) claimed was possessing him. Shakespeare got the name from Samuel Harsnett's Declaration of Egregious Popish Impostures (1603),[citation needed] where one reads of 40 fiends, which Jesuits cast out and among which was Fliberdigibbet, described as one of "foure deuils of the round, or Morrice, whom Sara in her fits, tuned together, in measure and sweet cadence."

By extension it has also been used as a synonym for Puck. Through its use as a nickname for a character in Sir Walter Scott's Kenilworth, it has gained the meaning of an impish child.[2]

Flibbertigibbet similarly features as a name in a local legend around Wayland's Smithy. According to the tale, Flibbertigibbet was apprentice to Wayland the Smith, and greatly exasperated his master.[3] Eventually Wayland threw Flibbertigibbet down the hill and into a valley, where he was transformed into a stone. Scott associates his Flibbertigibbet character in Kenilworth with Wayland Smith.[citation needed]

In the song "Maria" from the 1959 musical The Sound of Music, Maria is referred to by the nuns as "A flibbertigibbet, a will-'o-the-wisp, a clown".[4]-

In the Tom Hanks movie Joe Versus the Volcano, Meg Ryan's character refers to herself as a flibbertigibbet. In the E.B. White book Charlotte's Web, the Goose says, "I am no Flibberty-ibberty-gibbet." In "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban", 'Flibbertigibbet' is a password used to pass the Fat Lady to access Gryffindor's dormitory.

In "Slaughterhouse-5", Kurt Vonnegut writes about the main character Billy Pilgrim's daughter, Barbara: "All this responsibility at such an early age made her a bitchy flibbertigibbet." [5]


  1. ^ World Wide Words
  2. ^ New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary
  3. ^ Wayland the Smith
  4. ^ Paul McFedries (2008). The Complete Idiot's Guide to Weird Word Origins. Google Books. p. 58.
  5. ^ Kurt Vonnegut: Slaughterhouse-5. ISBN 0-586-08901-2

External links[edit]