Reading Agatha Christie’s books I sometimes come across words that I recognise, but know they cannot possibly mean what I understand them to mean. I found an example recently in Death in the Clouds.
A murder has taken place on a plane and Poirot has asked for a detailed list of the passengers’ belongings. In amongst those belongings three of the passengers have flapjacks in their bags. I thought that was quite strange, because to me a flapjack is a type of biscuit made of rolled oats, syrup and maybe pieces of fruit. They’re delicious. I wondered why these people would have flapjacks in their bags, along with cigarette holders, cigarette cases, keys, pencils and loose change, etc.
I was intrigued enough to look up the word. Wikipedia tells me that the word was not used to describe a food made of oats until 1935. Death in the Clouds was published in 1935, so it is just possible that Agatha Christie meant the flapjack that I know, but not very likely when I noticed that these three people were all women and also had lipstick and rouge in their bags and none of the men had flapjacks.
The answer is quite simple when I checked in my Chambers Dictionary:
A flapjack is a flat face-powder compact.
And this website adds that it was a term used in the 1930s and 1940s – voilà, the correct definition!
Nothing to do with the murder, though.
See more Wondrous Words at BermudaOnion’s Weblog.