"Flivver" in OED

Sam Clements sclements at NEO.RR.COM
Sun Jun 8 14:18:38 UTC 2003

RHDAS gives the auto meaning in a NY EVE. JOURNAL story from 1915.  Also a
1915 Lardner story.  etc.  So it certainly pre-dated WWI.

----- Original Message -----
From: "Douglas G. Wilson" <douglas at NB.NET>
Sent: Sunday, June 08, 2003 2:25 AM
Subject: "Flivver" in OED

> Wondering about the etymology of "flivver" (= "small auto" etc.), I
> reviewed the OED entry. I find that "flivver" referred to a small
> ("750 tons or less", OED). I reviewed the list of US destroyer classes and
> I found the Flusser class, of which the 700-ton USS Flusser was
> commissioned in 1909 (IIRC). That looks like a likely origin of "flivver"
> "destroyer". Googling with the entry <<  flivver flusser  >> turns up a
> (cached) Russian page wherein these names are in fact equated for this
> destroyer class: so I think my odd notion is probably correct for once.
> course this suggests that "flivver" PROBABLY had SOME other sense before
> being applied to the destroyer class, but we know that "flivver" was used
> something like "flop" by 1912, and a 'deprecating' use for a light
> destroyer from this origin might not be unbelievable (cf. modern USN "tin
> can" = "destroyer").]
> Next question: did the application of "flivver" to motorcars precede this
> use for ships, or not? When did "flivver" first refer to an automobile?
> OED shows a '1910' citation in "Red Meekins" by W. A. Fraser, but
> apparently the (book) edition from which it was taken was dated 1921, the
> earlier (1910?) publication apparently in "Sunday Magazine" or something
> like that as far as I can tell. Can the 1910 date be confirmed? Can any
> other early (pre-WWI) date be verified for this sense? The next OED
> citation in the motorcar sense is 1919, and I wonder whether the
> application to motorcars might actually be from ca. 1918 instead of 1910.
> Can Jesse Sheidlower or any other scholar make any relevant comment?
> -- Doug Wilson

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