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Why do we say 'flea market'?


March aux puces - original flea market still popular in Paris
A mysterious term given that the market for fleas is limited. There are two (vaguely) plausible theories:


 1. A translation of march aux puces -  the popular name for a large outdoor market in Paris that became popular in the 1920s. It was called the  March Aux Puces  "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.

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Comments

  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.

    ReplyDelete
  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.

    ReplyDelete
  3. In Russian such markets also are cold "блошиные" (flea). So hypothesis 2 seems false

    ReplyDelete

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