Meanings: “Flicker,” “Flick”

November 12, 2011

Where does the word “flicker” come from?  The verb has Old English roots, etymology.com tells us, and is onomatopoeic.  The name of the bird derives from that.  And “flick,”  as slang for a movie, is a 20th century derivative.

flicker (v.) Look up flicker at Dictionary.com
O.E. flicorian “to flutter, flap quickly and lightly,” originally of birds. Onomatopoeic and suggestive of quick motion. Sense of “shine with a wavering light” is c.1600, but not common till 19c. Related: Flickered; flickering. The noun is from 1849 as “wavering, unsteady light or flame,” 1857 as “a flickering.”
flicker (n.) Look up flicker at Dictionary.com
“woodpecker,” 1808 Amer.Eng., possibly echoic of bird’s note, or from white spots on plumage that seem to flicker as it flits from tree to tree.
flick (n.) Look up flick at Dictionary.com
mid-15c., probably imitative of a light blow with a whip. Earliest recorded use is in phrase not worth a flykke “useless.” As slang for “film,” it is first attested 1926, a back formation from flicker, from their flickering appearance. The verb is first recorded 1816; meaning “quick turn of the wrist” is from 1897, originally in cricket. Related: Flicked; flicking.

All these questions were put in mind this morning hearing Denise Levertov’s “Flickering Mind” read in church:

Flickering Mind

Denise Levertov

Lord, not you,
it is I who am absent.
At first
belief was a joy I kept in secret,
stealing alone
into sacred places:
a quick glance, and away — and back,
circling.
I have long since uttered your name
but now
I elude your presence.
I stop
to think about you, and my mind
at once
like a minnow darts away,
darts
into the shadows, into gleams that fret
unceasing over
the river’s purling and passing.
Not for one second
will my self hold still, but wanders
anywhere,
everywhere it can turn. Not you,
it is I am absent.
You are the stream, the fish, the light,
the pulsing shadow,
you the unchanging presence, in whom all
moves and changes.
How can I focus my flickering, perceive
at the fountain’s heart
the sapphire I know is there?

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About Doug Bennett

Doug Bennett is Emeritus President and Professor of Politics at Earlham College. He has a wife, Ellen, and two sons, Tommy (born 1984) and Robbie (born 2003).
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