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 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 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 cadence."
The word "flibbertigibbet" has been used to describe Jiminy Cricket due to his whimsical, chatty nature.
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 popular culture
• In the book Ready Player One, Art3mis says she rambles when she's nervous, calling herself a flibbertigibbet.
• In the Alfred Hitchcock movie Foreign Correspondent, written by Robert Benchley, Charles Bennett, Harold Clurman, Joan Harrison, Ben Hecht, James Hilton, John Howard Lawson, John Lee Mahin, Richard Maibaum, and Budd Schulberg, with only Bennett, Benchley, Harrison, and Hilton credited in the release, veteran foreign correspondent Stebbins (Robert Benchley) answers a phone call in the middle of UK reporter Scott ffolliott's (George Sanders) midplot recap substantiating the nefarious political intrigues that have thus far cast a cassandra complex over protagonist Johnny Jones (Joel McCrea). Ffolliott shuts up as Benchley barks into the receiver: "Hello! Eddie? This is Pontius Stebbins. I wanna place a little bet on Flibbertigibbet in the first race of the... What? The race is over? Oh, well, whaddaya know. Okay, callya back later." Pure comic relief, the other two characters hardly note this bit of foolery and carry on their summary of the diabolical international fascist plot with deadpan gravitas. Of course, viewer be aware; this is Hitchcock.
- 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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