Wondrous Words – Flapjack

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.

14 thoughts on “Wondrous Words – Flapjack

  1. Thanks for such an interesting post from one little word. To an Australian a flapjack is also a food- but not a biscuit, although I do like the sound of that- we use it for a small pancake, like a pikelet.


  2. Like Louise, here in North America the flapjack would be a pancake. I’ve recently come to know, and love, the English version but thank you for the education on a third item!


  3. Margaret – Oh, that is really interesting! Thanks for sharing! That word isn’t used in the U.S. edition of the novel – or at least not in the edition I have. That’s so interesting…


  4. My kiddos and I were just talking about that word yesterday, wondering what the etymology was – how much fun to come across your post today! I love how words change (and now I sincerely want to try your flapjacks–sound tasty!)


  5. The wonders of the internet! I am myself reading Death in the Clouds, came across the word flapjack stopped to google it, because I couldn’t imagine these well-to-do ladies carrying chewy, crumbly oat biscuits around with them. No joy in Google, no joy in the OED, and no joy in Dr Johnson’s dictionary ! Back to Google then, add “1935” to the search, and here is this book post from 10 years ago answering the very question, sought for the very same reason 🙂


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