What’s a ‘flibbertigibbet’?

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Increase your vocabulary and you’ll make your writing much more precise. That’s why I provide a word of the week. Today’s word:  flibbertigibbet…

Here is a novel about four college classmates — an artist, an architect, a lawyer and an actor —who move to New York and support and torment each other for decades. A Little Life, by Hana Yanagihara, has earned a plethora of awards and was even a finalist for the 2015 Man Booker Prize.

But what I liked best about it was that it employed one of my favourite words: flibbertigibbet. Here is how Yanagihara used it:

His father in particular liked Jude — he often told Malcolm that Jude had real intellectual heft and depth, unlike his other friends, who were essentially flibbertigibbets.

As you likely already know, a flibbertigibbet is a frivolous, flighty, or excessively talkative person. Reflecting on popular media, I think the character of Suki, played by Melissa McCarthy in the Gilmore Girls (pictured above) is a perfect example of a flibbertigibbet.

But what it the etymology of this delightful word? It turns out that its origin may lie in a meaningless representation of chattering. And don’t forget that in the song “Maria” from the 1959 musical The Sound of Music, Maria is referred to by the nuns as, “a flibbertigibbet, a Will-o’-the-wisp, a clown.”