I’m going to absquatulate with the flummadiddle

I found an article at Merriam-Webster that had me laughing.  It’s titled “‘Slantindicular,’ ‘Flummadiddle,’ and 8 More Silly Words from 19th-Century America“.


Definition: something foolish or worthless

Flummadiddle is the sort of word that rolls nicely off the tongue, and even if people with whom you use the word don’t quite know what it means the conversation will be the richer for its presence. It has gone through a number of meanings and spellings since it first began being used in the early 19th century, with the earliest use apparently referring to a frill or fringe, as found on a dress.

… looking down, found I had disarrayed my fair partner of lots of roses, and two yards of flounce or flummediddle, which skirted the lower part of her dress.
— Ichabod, Boston Lyceum, March 1827

My stature is neither of predominating height, or insignificant brevity, and having observed that a redundance of ‘flemmediddle’ (as it is now called) is tolerable only on a lady of the first dimensions, and that a dress for the street without any addition of ornament looks rather a la Cinderella, or like a morning habiliment, a neat, appropriate trimming will be visible upon whatever I may wear, of my own work, (what a sneer, Miss Araminta! sneers do not become ladies, gentlemen may sneer as much as they please,)….
— Boston Spectator and Ladies’ Album, 21 Apr. 1827

Following its sartorial beginnings, flummadiddle began to be employed in other fashions; it comes up as a single-word headline for an article in a Massachusetts newspaper, The Salem Gazette, in 1829, without any apparent relation to the text of the article (which is about a walking stick); perhaps the editors of that paper simply liked the way the word looked.

By the middle of the 19th century flummadiddle was used variously as a verb or as an interjection:

L. (Jumping up.) Jupiter! thunder! a tete-a-tete with a vengeance! O, you etarnal varmint of a bat—I’ll show you how to flumadiddle around me!
— Spy-Glass, July 1840

O folly, fudge, and flummadiddle! We shall wait and see what next.
— Milwaukee Daily Sentinel, 18 Aug. 1848

In the 1840s it settled down a bit, and began to see service in the role that it was obviously born to play, which is as a synonym for fiddle-faddle, folderol, or flapdoodle.

The threat about retaining all Mexico is mere flummadiddle, of course.
— Boston Daily Bee, 8 Oct. 1846

. . .


Definition: to depart suddenly; to abscond

In 1830 a newspaper in North Carolina, the Newbern Sentinel, ran an article about an unpublished dictionary, titled The Cracker Dictionary. The work appears to have remained unpublished (perhaps the title had something to do with this), but in reporting on the words contained in the book’s nascent form the article provides early written evidence of a number of 19th century Americanisms. Among these is absquatulate, which is spelled with an initial O, rather than A, and defined as “to mosey, or to abscond.”

In addition to absquatulate, the reader is informed of the meaning of a number of other similar terms, many of which have retained some degree of currency in our language; flustrated (“frustrated and prostrated, greatly agitated”), rip-roarious, (“ripping and tearing”), and fitified (“subject to fits”) have seen enough continued use that we define them in our Unabridged Dictionary. Other words contained in this never-realized dictionary, such as ramsquaddled (“rowed up salt river”) and spontinaceously (“of one’s own accord”) appear to have been lost with the passage of time.

Two of the loafers, we understand, were yesterday taken and committed to prison; the other has absquatulated.
— The Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana), 13 June 1837

There’s more at the link, including words of which this originally-not-from-here American had never heard.  Startling, but certainly entertaining!

Our forefathers came up with some interesting descriptive words, didn’t they?  I think we’ve lost something in that we don’t seem able to emulate them, except in meaningless obscenities.  The English language deserves better, IMHO.



  1. I still regularly use slantidicular. I use it for when we're hanging art at my museum. I use it to let staff know that a level isn't sufficient to hang a piece, it must be judged by the wall, floor, ceiling, and content. A perfectly level piece of art can quite easily look off, so you deal with it slantidicularly. Don't know where I picked it up, but have been museuming for 30 years, so probably somewhere along the way I learned it from a co-worker. I think it is the easiest understood of you examples.

  2. I would also draw your attention to Francis Grose's 'Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue' from the late 18th C. He has such wonderful entries, and having traveled fairly extensively in the UK, his slang words are still used in the US, and are mostly unused or unknown in England. I had a meeting with a Bristol University professor who believes an Appalachian native would be more understood by a 17th Century Englishman than a modern UK native. The dictionary does bear this out. One not in use much anymore is (from memory): 'Admiral of the Narrow Seas'. the definition being 'one who vomits in the lap of the person sitting opposite at a table in a tavern'. There's also an 'Admiral of the Wide Seas', I believe which I forget, but I have the book at work if there's an interest, I'll reply.

  3. Any of Gene Wolfe's novels are a veritable treasure trove of arcane words. You think he's made them up, but they're all part of the English language … or were.

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