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Fly by night

Posted by ESC on May 15, 2002

In Reply to: Fly by night posted by leighb on May 15, 2002

: where does the phrase fly by night come from

From the archives:

FLY BY NIGHT - I heard this phrase used recently to refer to fly-by-night contractors, people who come into a tornado-ravaged area, do some shoddy repair work, then leave the area. "Fly-by-night was originally an ancient term of reproach to an old woman, signifying she is a witch, according to Grose's Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue. From a witch flying about at night on a broom, the term was applied, at the beginning of the 19th century, to anyone who flies hurriedly from a recent activity, usually a business activity and usually at night - someone who is a swindler and whose activities are fraudulent. The first fly-by-night operator recorded in English makes his appearance in Thomas Love Peacock's novel 'Maid Marion' , a parody of the Robin Hood legend in which a character refers to Maid Marion and the outlaw: 'Would you have her married to an old fly-by-night that accident made an earl and nature a deer-stealer?' 'Fly-by-night has also been, in British slang, prostitute and a prostitute's vagina." From Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins by Robert Hendrickson (Facts on File, New York, 1977.)

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