Compound Fractures: “Flapjacks”


I’m trying to figure out whether flapjack is an endocentric or exocentric compound. Flap is a verb, jack is a noun, and it’s a fun compound. If I can include it in my research, I’d like to. Is a flapjack a type of jack, or a thing (not a jack) that flaps jacks?

Flap from flapjack is listed in the OED under definition 4a. It has Germanic relatives.

— Do yourself a favor and act out the definition of flap as given above. Do it now. I defy you not to giggle while you do it. Descriptive words are amazing. You really get the feeling that you’re manhandling whatever it is between your hands. Wrestle it to the ground! Flap it!

Jack on the other hand, is elusively odd. It may be a generic version of the name Jacques, which begat Jack, and can sometimes mean generic food. In that case, a flapjack is a kind of jack (f00d), so it’s an endocentric V+N compound. Yay. If it were a thing that flaps jacks, it might be a spatula, or a food so wonderful that it would make jacks (generic guys) flip their lids… er flap ’em. That does not seem to be the case, but the OED is not confident about the origin about jack, so I went looking afuera, and I got off-topic…

Looking for extra-OED jack sources, I found both noun and verbs of jack on etymonline, and the end of this particular definition gave me uncontrollable bouts of laughter. Twice.

WHY IS PENIS IN QUOTATION MARKS? It’s not a euphemism. This is the most basic medical term. It’s like writing, “…and by penis, of course, I mean penis.” Etymonline also uses italics to reference words, but they didn’t do that here. Is it a direct one-word QUOTE? From where? You can’t plagiarize penis, it’s one word. Penis™? Back in the practical world, I guess quotations are used to match the “to masturbate” earlier in the sentence, though I still argue they could have been italicized just as easily. He’s a man, in the sense of “penis.” Ridiculous.

So before I add this word to my endocentric compound list, let’s talk about the meaning. Flapjacks mean two different foods to me. First and foremost, they are pancakes which I associate with log cabins, diners, and Paul Bunyan and his ox, Blue. FACT: One time his crew made flapjacks so big that men used bacon skates on the griddle.

Annie and Emily at the Paul Bunyan Statue in NoPo, 2007

The second definition of flapjacks only emerged for me this year in England, where they represent fruity vegan-friendly granola snacks made from oats and syrup. They have become a favorite Fairhurst snack for me in York. They keep for several days, are slightly nutritional yet definitely have some sugar in ’em. (Leap to the near future to see my post about ’em.)

Oaty British flapjacks are first attested in a cookbook in 1935, while pancake flapjacks (what a lovely compound collision) are first cited in 1620, adorably spelled with the j as an i. Flapiacks. (Remember that if you’re ever in a Pancake Holy Grail situation.)

I suppose they are similar flat floury oaty filling foods, but I’m not quite getting the leap. I’ve tweeted @lynneguist about her thoughts on the subject. She clarified the Atlantic distinction for someone in the comments of a post about Baked Goods in 2006, but I get no closer to the connection.

The first citation of pancake flapjack is in 1620 from a British guy (they were all British then, though) in London.There are historical records of recipes from Middle English, so why is the oldest British entry is only from 1935? This interwar cookbook says they were a WWI rationing invention. Perhaps pancake flapjacks were modified for rougher ingredients, but they were so ubiquitous during wartime that they got popular in their poor form, like the integration of hot dogs into Japanese cuisine after living in WWII internment camps. Hmmm.

In Summary:
Flap: Germanic
Jack: Romance (French)

Flapjack: endocentric [V+N]N compound, mixed roots, describes a thing not a person, flap is a transitive verb, it’s not technical vocabulary, it’s normally plural, probably because there are always many, not because of something weird, like sawbones. Cool. Put it on the list.

May 25, 2012

in compounds,dissertation,food,sex,University of York,Words & Origins

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Ben May 25, 2012 at 5:46 PM

Interesting. Now I’m hungry.

(The comment captcha thing is being weird, or I’m stupid. nine – 4 is 5, right?)


Electric Dragon March 31, 2013 at 3:41 PM

Proper flapjacks are unlikely to be vegan friendly as they are made with butter.


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