By Billie Melman
Booklet via Melman, Billie
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Additional resources for Women and the Popular Imagination in the Twenties: Flappers and Nymphs
The mouth of him who is to speak, and the right ear of him ... 14 It seems that in the early nineteenth century 'flapper' had disappeared from standard English, but had remained alive in various dialects, signifying 'young fowl' - typically, a waterfowl just able to fly. 'Flappers 28 Women and the Popular Imagination in the 1920s ... puir beasts that couldna yet flee - and therefore are ca' d flappers' (1865); 'Auld drake and an auld dyuck wi' about a dizzen flappers' (1869); 'A couple of flappers start out from a clump of rushes and take a short flight across the Broad .
Elizabeth Drew's reaction to the 'new licence' in mass-market fiction is typical: The collective mind of contemporary society is now impregnated with a new consciousness of sex. It has indeed become such an obsession with some sections of it, that there are many, as Mr Edwin Muir humorously remarks, who see the curves of a woman's body in every subject not actually flat. The new licence in the presentation and depiction of sexual phenomena has created a new type of best-seller that is characteristically modem.
The evolution of this epithet, which has not previously received the attention it deserves, conveniently presents three significant phases. The first and longest phase had lasted from the end of the sixteenth century until the second half of the nineteenth. 'Flapper' over this period had been an obscure word, largely neutral, that had existed in dialect and literature and in both had designated first inanimated beings and subsequently animals. The second phase, lasting from about 1870 until the end of the First World War, had seen the progress of the word from dialect to general speech, together with a two-sided change in meaning.