REH Word of the Week: flivver Essay


1. slang. an automobile, especially one that is small, inexpensive and old.

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[origin: 1905-1910; Americanism; origin unknown]


Now flapper ridden flivvers whiz
Along the ancient road.
An Armours’ packinghouse does biz
When once King Bahthur strode.
Bootleggers slink along the paths
Where knights kissed ladies’ hands,
Where shield crashed shield in tourney great
A filling station stands.
Centuries gone, those noble knights,
Forgot, their helmets rust,
Yet in their homage let us sing,
“Flourish the packing trust!”

[from “L’Envoi (4. Now flapper ridden flivvers whiz)”; this is the complete poem as it appears in The Collected Poetry of Robert E. Howard, p. 557]

Photo: 1935 Chevrolet standard automobile similar to that owned by REH. For further details, see Rob Roehm’s article: “Robert E. Howard’s Automobiles: ‘License and Registration Please’” here.

A Note from the Editor: 

Apparently Don Herron has his ignition wires crossed in a recent post on his blog regarding this particular Word of the Week.

According to Webster’s Third New International and other sources, no distinction is made about makes or models: a flivver is simply a small, inexpensive, possibly unreliable automobile.

They all state that the origin of the term is unknown.

Fords were of course small, inexpensive, sometimes unreliable cars, so they could be flivvers, but so could any make or model which fit the definition. In the scores of examples of usage online, none make any distinctions as to manufacturers.

Fords, in fact, were more often referred to, in slang, as Tin Lizzies.

Ford does have a distinctive association with the word when it comes to aircraft, though: in 1926, Ford introduced the Ford Flivver, a small personal airplane. It was not a success.

Unless Don has some actual evidence that the word flivver means exclusively “Ford,” he’s just running on four flat tires.

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