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Floozy

First stone cast, film at 11.

Dear Word Detective: I’m wondering about the origin of the word “floozy” to describe what used to be known, in more quaint times, as a “loose woman.” — Lynda.

Ah yes, the more quaint times. As Grampa Simpson put it, “Like the time I caught the ferry to Shelbyville. I needed a new heel for m’shoe. So I decided to go to Morganville, which is what they called Shelbyville in those days. So I tied an onion to my belt. Which was the style at the time. Now, to take the ferry cost a nickel, and in those days, nickels had pictures of bumblebees on ’em. Gimme five bees for a quarter, you’d say.” If that ain’t quaint, I’ll be a badger’s dentist, as we used to say. Back then.

“Quaint” is actually a strange word. (Offstage: Would you like to talk about it?) OK, well, “quaint” comes from the Anglo-Norman “cointe” (clever, crafty, proud, elegant) and ultimately, way back, from the Latin “cognitus” (clever, wise). In English, “quaint” originally meant “cunning, crafty, elegant or finely made,” but by the 14th century we were using it to mean “strange or unusual,” which became our modern “quaint” meaning, as the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) puts it, “attractively or agreeably unusual in character or appearance … pleasingly old-fashioned.”

“Floozy” is a word with a history, as one might expect. For one thing, it has had a number of spellings and forms (including floozie, floosie, floosy, and floogy, among others) since it first appeared in the early 20th century. For another, the meaning of “floozy” has changed a bit over the years.

The source of “floozy” is, surprisingly, almost certainly the adjective “flossy,” which is based on “floss.” “Floss” is the fine filaments that surround the cocoon of the silk worm, as well as, by extension, anything made (or appearing to be made) of fine, glossy filaments or fibers. (What we in the US call “cotton candy,” for instance, is known as “candy floss” in the UK.) In the mid-19th century, “flossy,” originally meaning simply “floss-like,” acquired two figurative meanings: “fancy or showy” (i.e., tricked out in glossy and fashionable finery) and “saucy or impertinent” (carrying that “fashionable” into “brash” and “gaudy” territory).

In the early 20th century US, “floozie,” a colloquial form of “flossy,” was most often used in the first sense of “elegant, attractive,” especially with reference to young women, but by mid-century the “saucy” element had come to the fore and a “floozy” in popular parlance was a wild and disreputable “party girl,” if not actually a prostitute (“He bought a red racy car and went skidding around … with every floozy in town; the only nice girls you ever saw in that car were his sisters.” Truman Capote, 1951).

Such derogatory devolution of terms applied to women is sadly common in English. The epithet “hussy,” for instance, is derived from the honorable “housewife.” On the bright side (I guess), “floozie” is such an antiquated term that it is almost always used in a joking sense today.

8 comments to Floozy

  • Moley

    The river Liffey in Dublin (Ireland) is represented by statue of a naked female figure who sits in a pool and is coloquially known as “the floozie in the jacuzzi”.
    http://www.megomalleys.com/index.php/irish-stories/54-floozyinjacuzzi

  • Gram

    Is it more commonly spelled floozy or floosie? Thanks.

  • Mike Manthey

    You mention “hussy” coming from “housewife”. I say, Only indirectly. My knowledge of Danish and Danes’ emigration to North America causes me to think that “hussy” comes from “hus syg” [the ‘g’ is silent now but originally the ‘g’ denoted a German ‘ch’], meaning “sick to get a house” ie. ‘crazy’ to meet and seduce a guy with a house. The term “hus syg” makes perfect sense, with the same meaning even in contemporary Danish, but signals the peasant culture of yore.

    Best,

    -mike

  • Andrew Silverman

    There’s a Victorian erotic novella with this word used as a proper name for the titular heroine.

  • Andrew Silverman

    Amendment – novella is titled Flossie

  • I did some research into this myself recently, and with respect, I think the above explanation of “floozy” is almost certainly incorrect.

    “Flossy” as used in the 1890s was certainly used to describe clothing, though in an innocent context. It was also briefly used to describe rowdy or aggressive young men, in the same way the word “slick” has been used. “Flossie” and “Flossy” were also common girl’s names in the 1890s. But this is not where “floozy” comes from.

    In the early 1880s, there was an incredibly popular saloon / dance hall song called “Flewey Flewey”. “Flewey Flewey” doesn’t actually mean anything, it’s just a nonsense phrase that is silly and fun to say. And by amazing non-coincidence not unlike “Louie Louie”, “Flewey Flewey” became a popular party anthem from about 1880 to the mid-1890s.

    The song’s supposed author, a performer named Billy Courtright, was a popular actor and singer on the Minstrelsy circuit, which in his particular case meant he was a white dude who wore blackface. It’s not unlikely that he appropriated the song or something very like it from Black culture of the era. Courtright went onto become an early silent film star, working for DW Griffith and Hal Roach.

    Anyway, “flewey” entered mainstream usage and can be seen used in newspapers of the period, as sort of a code-word. Saying that someone got “flewey” and got arrested or the like meant that he or she went out and partied and got drunk, high, or otherwise messed up — and then most likely got into some sort of trouble as a result.

    Just after the turn of the century, “flewey” transformed to “fluzy”, “floozie” and finally “floozy”. One can find it in use in connection to gambling, “boom town” situations, and even circus performers and sports. In other words, thrill- or danger-seekers.

    One particular usage I ran across which is an example of why I’m skeptical of the “flossy” connection: It seems that in 1904 in Salt Lake City, there was a trend among women who wanted to go out and gamble to do so dressed in men’s clothing. In many gambling establishments in SLC, they reserved a “floozie room” for women who did this. Thus, these “floozies” would not fit the concept of the word as we understand it today.

    From there, the term was solidified by around 1907 as meaning a female thrill- or fun-seeker, and goes onto transform into the meaning that we more commonly understand today.

  • admin

    For a different take on “floozy”, check out the last three paragraphs of this post on the Oxford University Press blog, by etymologist Anatoly Liberman:

    https://blog.oup.com/2013/10/etymology-word-origin-deuce-doozy-floozy-part-2/

    The word “floozy”, he points out, appeared around the same time as “doozy”, and slang often echoes/rhymes with other slang — which may be a piece of the puzzle. — KW

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