Bookshelp header image for page World Wide Words logo

Flapdoodle

Pronounced /flæpˈduːd(ə)l/Help with pronunciation

“An arbitrary formation”, solemnly state those dictionaries that are not content with the bland and unhelpful “origin unknown”, though they all do give its meaning of nonsense or twaddle. That’s not quite the whole story: the older and rarer fadoodle had much the same sense. And flapdoodle, though perhaps with a different origin, is recorded as current in the eighteenth century for the male and female naughty bits.

The cover of Peter Simple by Captain Marryat, in the edition published in the USA by Henry Holt
This edition of Peter Simple is published in the USA by Henry Holt

Whatever its source, it’s usually and reasonably taken to be an American word. Which makes it slightly odd that the first known example is from a book by the English writer Captain Frederick Marryat, best known for Mr Midshipman Easy and The Children of the New Forest. His Peter Simple was serialised in the Metropolitan Magazine in 1832–33: “‘The gentleman has eaten no small quantity of flapdoodle in his lifetime.’ ‘What’s that, O’Brien?’ replied I. ‘Why, Peter,’ rejoined he, ‘it’s the stuff they feed fools on.’ It may be relevant that Captain Marryat’s mother was American, from Boston, and that this sense of the word is rare.

Nearly all its appearances in the next few decades are certainly from US sources, as in this Wisconsin newspaper piece dated 1859, “They say that no such flapdoodle can be forced down the throats of the intelligent people of Wisconsin.” By the 1880s, it was widely known, the verb to flapdoodle had appeared, and an editor of a newspaper in Kansas objected to the flapdoodlish editorials of a rival journal.

Variations abounded, such as doodleflap and flamdoodle. The Fort Wayne Sentinel printed a story in 1900 about an old man who could not be persuaded of the value of these newfangled banks. “The building looks all right from the outside, but when a critter gits inside it’s flipdoodle checks and flamdoodle receipts and writin’ names, and no hollerin’n or drinkin’n or shootin’. I’m too old fur flipdoodle and flamdoodle, and I’ll bury my money in a hole in the ground and keep on in the ole way!”

Share this page
Facebook Twitter StumbleUpon Google+ LinkedIn Email

Search World Wide Words

Support World Wide Words!

Donate via PayPal. Select your currency from the list and click Donate.


Buy from Amazon and get me a small commission at no cost to you. Select your preferred site and click Go!

OTHER WAYS TO HELP

Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 20 May 2006

Advice on copyright

The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
This page URL: http://www.worldwidewords.org/weirdwords/ww-fla3.htm
Last modified: 20 May 2006.