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.
In literature and culture
This word also has a historical use as a name for a fiend, devil or spirit. In the 15th-century English morality play The Castle of Perseverence, the Bad Angel addresses the vice figure Detraccio (also called Backbiter and the messenger of the World) as Flyprgebet (line 1724). 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 about 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.
- World Wide Words
- New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary
- Wayland the Smith
- Paul McFedries (2008). The Complete Idiot's Guide to Weird Word Origins. Google Books. p. 58.
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