Whimsy, Whim Wham, Fancy and Flutters

whimsy (n.) Look up whimsy at Dictionary.comc.1600, probably related to whimwham.

whimwham (n.) Look up whimwham at Dictionary.com“whimsical device, trifle,” 1520s, of unknown origin; perhaps from Scandinavian (cf. Old Norse hvima “to let the eyes wander,” Norwegian kvima “to flutter”), or else an arbitrary native formation (cf. flim-flam).

flim-flam (n.) Look up flim-flam at Dictionary.comalso flimflam, 1530s, a contemptuous echoic construction, perhaps connected to some unrecorded dialectal word from Scandinavian (cf. Old Norse flim “a lampoon”). From 1650s as a verb.

The word that floated into my mind this morning was whimsical, which I always associate with lightness, fantasy and ephemeral associations of happy serendipity.  The word itself is  of no fixed address, as one sees from the ever-faithful OED, arriving on the wings of whimwham, evidently originating from Old Norse, which makes a nice change from Middle English (and demonstrates that you CAN teach an Old Norse new tricks).  From the Norwegian kvima, to flutter, as whimsy does.

Ben Jonson used it in 1607 in Volpone:

I can feel
A whimsy in my blood: I know not how,
Success hath made me wanton.

Thus both whimsy and wantonness, heady stuff – I love the temporary temporality of whimsy as something always hovering, like the whisper of a hummingbird trembling at a flower – it captures the essence of imagination and of wonder –

“Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast”  Lewis Carroll

Advertisements

About hickson1

Art historian, professor, Italian Renaissance and Baroque specialist
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s