Everyone Is Jumping Off the Brooklyn Bridge

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Words to Your Mother: Flustrated

I'm going to start by saying that I hate this word. It annoys me to no end. That said, I can't seem to make a solid argument against using it.

As I'm writing this, Wiktionary claims that flustrated is a blend of "frustrated" and "flustered". I would've guessed the same thing. Although I generally trust Wikipedia and its sister sites to some extent, the fact is, the person who wrote this may have just been guessing.

Several other sites give the same definition -- word-for-word. Obviously, these are just drawing from Wiktionary.

Langmaker claims that Flustrated first originated around 1980. Not even close. Let's dig back further.

Dictionary.com doesn't go into the etymology, but according to their definition (drawn from Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary), flustrated is a colloquialism. Still not looking good for flustrated.

At this point it comes in handy to have a good printed copy of a dictionary with better etymological information. Random House Webster's College Dictionary (1995 edition) states that flustrated originated in 1710-20 as a blend of "fluster" and "frustrate" (+ "-ed"). (Interestingly, "flustrate" itself does not have an entry; only "flustrated" does.) While this leaves the origin at what we would expect, this pushes the dates back significantly: This obviously isn't some form or modern slang * or "Ebonics". This word has, for better or worse, been around far too long to be considered a simple mispronunciation any longer. At worst, it is a portmanteau (or, more accurately, a blend). At best, it might not even be that.

According to The Mavens' Word of the Day:

The word flustrate, also found in the spelling flusterate and the derived from flust(e)ration, is just an elaborated variant of fluster, with the verb-forming suffix -ate; it is probably not a blend of fluster and frustrate (though some recent examples do suggest a blend or a confusion with frustrate). [...] Flustrate is first found in Addison and Steele's The Spectator, one of the seminal periodicals in English literary history, written by two of English's greatest prose stylists. Steele, in Spectator number493, wrote: "We were coming down Essex Street one Night a little flustrated." And Samuel Richardson wrote in his novel Clarissa, "How soon these fine young ladies will be put into flusterations."

Follow the above link for more information, but, if Random House has done their research properly, this throws every assumption most have about flustrate into doubt. In summary:

  1. Flustrate is not a recent word: It has been around for around 300 years (at minimum).
  2. Because of its long history, flustrate cannot reasonably be considered "slang".
  3. Flustrate is not necessarily a blend of fluster and frustrate, although it almost certainly is derived from fluster.

That said, the faulty assumptions and negative connotations surrounding this word and probably more than enough reason to avoid it in regular usage. At minimum, I would avoid it in any "professional" settings.

I still hate that word.

* Warning: Link may contain foul language.

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