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Sunday, 25 March 2012

Why do we say 'flea market'?

No agreement here - other than you won't find fleas for sale if you go to one. There are two (vaguely) plausible theories: 1. A translation of the March Aux Puces - often used to describe a large outdoor market in Paris that became popular in the 1920s "because there are so many second-hand articles sold of all kinds that they are believed to gather fleas." [E.S. Dougherty, "In Europe," 1922]. 2. From the Dutch word for swamp is given as “vlie”, which sounds like flea when spoken in English. The Dutch settlers held markets in the then swampland that was Manhattan Island. The OED goes with the French market explanation which, while less cute, is more convincing.


  1. I once read somewhere that it was called a flea market because the shoppers jump around almost like fleas. I have no idea how reliable that might be, or even what the source is.

  2. 'Vlie' for swamp is no longer in use in modern Dutch. 'Swamp' is 'moeras' and 'flea' is 'vlo'. Therefor I believe your second theory is less plausible than the first.