The agreeable eye

an eudæmonistarchives


I had the misfortune to own a first edition of Trees and other Poems by one Joyce Kilmer; it has filled many a dull hour with indignant mirth and there the matter might have ended, had it not been for the following stanza in ‘Old Poets’:

For these young flippertigibbets
     A-rhyming their hours away
They won’t be still like honest men
     And listen to what you say.

I will not offer any criticism of the sentiments or idiom of this stanza, for what irked me was the word ‘flippertigibbets,’ which seemed an unnecessary orthographical variation intended only to catch attention it did not deserve. I turned hastily to my trusty dictionary, to see if my vexation was born of ignorance, but although the OED does include such useful words as flipper-de-flapper and flipperty-flopperty, flippertigibbets does not receive an entry. Under flibbertigibbet one finds:

flibbergib(be, flybbergybe, flibber de’ Jibb, flebergebet, -gebit, -gibet, flibber-gibbet, fliberdigib(b)et, fliberdegibek, flibberty-, flipperty-gibbet, flibbertigibbet

While the substitution of a p for a b is no cause for alarm, and as there is some precedent for it in the rare flipperty-gibbet, and as the word is an any event onomatopœic, I have, I know, no real cause for complaint. In the light, however, of its uncommonness, I was still inclined to think Kilmer in the wrong — at best a crank, at worst an idiot incapable of spelling. Until this morning.

I am not one of your low Erse or pseudo Gaels, flippertigibbets of frothy flighty fervour, whom you can blow hither and thither with a sixpence for a fan.

—Fr. Rolfe (Baron Corvo)
Hadrian the Seventh, p. 31f.

One instance makes an error; two makes a variant. I stand (or sit) abashed. Joyce Kilmer, I offer my apologies: you’re still a rotten poetaster, but I can’t complain about your spelling.


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