Stephen Goranson goranson at DUKE.EDU
Wed Sep 10 17:32:19 UTC 2008

Flivver may have meant a failure before a junky car.

The Washington Times (Washington [D.C.]) 1902-1939
November 04, 1910, Last Edition, Page 8, Image 8
...a "flivver" is theatrical parlance for something that doesn't "get across,"
or that falls far below expectations.

The Sun (New York [N.Y.]) 1833-1916
February 07, 1910, Page 5, Image 5
...commonest of words just now in the especial jargon of the actor trade is
[a playwright on a new play]...he looked pained and answered. "I don't
know but it looks to me like a flivver

Tobogganning on Parnassus - Page 26
by Franklin Pierce Adams - 1911 - 142 pages
Is she gray or ill-complected? I should call her some success. Soft the murmur
of the river, Bright the shore that lines the sea Is the universe a
flivver? ...

Headline: Behind the Scenes at Nation's Capital Special to the Inquirer
Washington, D. C. August 15; Article Type: News/Opinion
Paper: Philadelphia Inquirer, published as The Philadelphia Inquirer; Date:
08-16-1909; Volume: 161; Issue: 47; Page: 4;
"...didn't the rejection of your report shock you?"
"My first Flivver," admitted Bones.
"Flivver?" repeated Wopsome.
"Yes, from the verb 'to fliv,' meaning a foul, a bungled miss"

Perhaps the theatrical uses are related to:

The Salt Lake Herald (Salt Lake City [Utah) 1870-1909
September 23, 1906, Comic Supplement, Image 34
"Oxcoos me, Andy [Carnegie] but in dot letter you yust dictationed to me how
should I spell der vord flivver?"
"Der k is silent"...
'''using der word flivver in the financial sense...
...spell der vord flivver mit vun v and put der udder v back in der safe... Der
vord flivver mit one v please!'
Und das, Looey, vas started der idea of fanatic spelling....

The page available at:

"Dinkelspiel on Phonetic Spelling" by George V. Hobart, American-Journal

Stephen Goranson

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

More information about the Ads-l mailing list