Words are endlessly fascinating aren't they? Often I wonder where they came from or how popular they might be. There's always a bit of history behind the words we use.
Recently I used the word "flabbergasting" to describe a widespread reaction to the idea that Chubby Johnson - the man with a head of straw - might return as prime minister. By the way, I am very pleased to learn this very evening that he has squashed that idea so the path is now clear for Rishi Sunak to waltz into Number 10 Downing Street.
I like the word "flabbergasting". It rolls nicely off the tongue like "marshmallow" or "nincompoop". The root word "flabbergast" may have first arisen as a dialect word in Suffolk or Sussex. No one seems to know for sure. It seems to have entered the written language in 1772 as no other traceable appearances of the word have been found before that date. It may combine "flabby" and "aghast".
Throughout the nineteenth century, the word's use was quite rare. It was only around 1900 that "flabbergasted" and "flabbergasting" began to gain real traction, levelling off around 1940 before surging again around 1995. It's the same in America and Australia as in Great Britain.
Throughout this millennium its usage trajectory has continued steadily upwards. It seems that the majority of native English speakers are now both familiar and comfortable with the word. In "Carry On Up The Jungle" (1970), the British comic actor Frankie Howerd says: “I’m flabbergasted. My gast has never been so flabbered.”
In many contexts, "flabbergasted" is arguably more powerfully expressive than "astonished", "amazed" or "astounded". It suggests that your bottom jaw is hanging open with incredulity. Surely not! Yes. I will continue to use "flabbergasted" and "flabbergasting" from time to time to express reactions that verge on sheer disbelief and God knows there have many happenings in recent years that thoroughly merit connection with the term.