phrases, sayings, idioms and expressions at

Fly by Night

Posted by ESC on February 18, 2000

In Reply to: Fly by Night posted by Frankie on February 17, 2000

: I've understood it to mean a "here today gone tomorrow"
: (usually referring to a) company.
: Does anyone know who and when this phrase was coined?

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 '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.)