"Flivver" in OED

Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Sun Jun 8 23:01:42 UTC 2003

My '1918' was a boo-boo; I should have said that automotive "flivver" might
have dated from, say, 1915, which is indeed before the US entry into WW I,
if not for the OED's '1910' citation, which still is curious, if only for a
'formal' reason, since as it stands the earliest "flivver" ostensibly
referred to an automobile ... although I suspect "flivver" originally
(possibly in different form) was more general, = "something flimsy or
insubstantial". It is difficult for me to picture the derivation of 1915
"hoax"/"failure" from 1910 "popular motorcar". But it is easy to imagine
some comedian ca. 1910-1915 saying that the "T" in "Model T" is short for
"flibber T [gibbet]" or something like that (the car was light and cheap,
but very successful; was it commonly called "Model T" from the very
start?). The application to ships might have been parallel or sequential
(following the use for cars).

Of course "Flusser" resembling "flivver" might be coincidental, but it's
not just "fl-", it's "fl---er"; and note that if it's my accidental
connection some Russian source also shows it, independently (another
coincidence maybe). Whether the Navy's official classification has a
Flusser class or not is not an essential question (were the classes defined
the same pre-1920 anyway?): some sources today show a Flusser class (or
type, or sub-class) and the usage might have existed back in the day too
(even if 'incorrect'). Besides, even the single ship USS Flusser (and there
weren't too many USN destroyers afloat in 1910) must have had nicknames
among the swabbies and associates ... of which we all can guess what one
unprintable one probably was ... maybe when fussy officers or delicate
ladies were around "flivver" was used instead? (^_^)

I think the depth charge was usually "ashcan". "Tin can" originally may
have been a simple metaphor for "flimsy [metal-hulled?] vessel". It may
however have originated as a name, e.g. "Ticonderoga", which apparently was
the name of (inter alia) a US transport ship sunk by a U-boat during WW I
(this particular derivation is AFAIK unsupported, just an example
possibility). Either way I wouldn't be surprised to find "tin can" =
"small/light ship" before it meant specifically "destroyer".

-- Doug Wilson

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