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.
Another historical connection and likely origin of the word comes from "fly by the gibbet". A gibbet can refer to a platform or cage used to execute criminals and display their remains outside a town to warn other would-be criminals. The remains over time would be picked apart by small creatures and birds and thus "fly away". "Fly by the Gibbet" may also have been used as a sailing expression to refer to hoisting the jib sail (gibbet). This is a large sail that can be used when sailing with the direction of the wind to capture as much wind (and speed) as possible. A sail that has not been pulled tight will flap in the wind, which may have also contributed to the association.
In literature and culture
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), 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."
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. 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.
In the Tom Hanks movie Joe Versus the Volcano, Meg Ryan's character refers to herself as a flibbertigibbet.
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