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 may lie 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 Perseverance, 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 that Edgar claimed was possessing him, this one in the posture of beggar Tom o' Bedlam. 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 ucadence."
Flibbertigibbet similarly is featured 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.
In The Sound of Music, in the song Maria, one of the nuns responds to the question "How do you find a word that means Maria?" with "Flibbertigibbet."
This term was also used in the Looney Tunes episode Tweety's S.O.S. by Granny when she drops her glasses.
- "World Wide Words: Flibbertigibbet". World Wide Words.
- "Flibbertigibbet & Purre: An Undiscovered Pun from King Lear?". inamidst.com.
- New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary
- Vonnegut, Kurt (1969). Slaughterhouse-Five. New York: Dell Publishing. p. 29. ISBN 9780440180296.
- "Wayland the Smith". www.waylands.net.
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