• flummery •
flêm-êr-ee • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. A sweet gelatinous pudding made by straining oatmeal or wheatmeal. 2. Any kind of soft, sweet, bland food, such as custard. 3. Meaningless, deceptive speech; humbug, hocus-pocus.
Notes: Here is a word that, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, hasn't been used since Mark Twain's Life on the Mississippi (1883). Yet, it appears in all the major dictionaries, none of which marks it as obsolete. It has a plural, flummeries, in which the Y is replaced by I.
In Play: The original sense of the word is seldom encountered in the US: "Sue Flay always ended her bland dinners on some sort of flummery: custard, jellies, or vanilla ice cream." The figurative sense of the word is moderately popular on both sides of the Atlantic: "Marjorie despised the folderol, flummery and flattery of the reception line, and seldom participated on either side of one."
Word History: Today's Good Word comes to us from Welsh llymru "sour oatmeal gelatin", which has an untraceable history. It was once spelled thlummery. The FL and THL are attempts to render the sound of Welsh LL, an L in which the air is allowed to flow from both sides of the tongue. The replacement is also visible in the rendering of Llewelyn as Fluellin in the names of flowers. (Our deepest gratitude now, without flummery, to Mark Bailey, who recommended today's Good Word.)
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