Slang City Mail

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May 29, 2008

Slang of the Week: flivver (noun)
a cheap and usually old automobile, especially a Model T Ford

Jay had driven a flivver as a teenager, but he knew to impress the beautiful Daisy, he’d need to be behind the wheel of a Pierce-Arrow or a Rolls Royce.

“Today's rarest, most perfectly restored Ts can cost upward of $100,000. But $7,500 buys you a flivver that can take you to hell and back, provided you learn to work the pedals.” — Emily Lambert writing on

2008 marks the year of the T-party—-not the one where Bostonians dumped British tea into the harbor, but the 100th birthday of the Model T Ford. I know this not because I have a particular interest in vintage autos, but rather because the centennial has prompted Model T events across the country; this Tuesday, I found a couple dozen of these cars parked in downtown Black Mountain, North Carolina, where I’m on vacation

While the ones I saw were pristine, shiny, and carefully driven on paved streets, the Model T was originally a workhorse, designed for the muddy, bumpy roads of 1908. And as old as that design may be, in a 2007 race up a steep hill sponsored by Forbes, an ancient Model T handily beat a modern Hummer H2.

Flivver was not the car’s only nickname; it was also called a Tin Lizzie. The "tin" part is obvious; the American Heritage dictionary suggests that this second part came about because Lizzie was a common name for horses, but other references are hesitant to guess at a history.

Likewise, the etymology of flivver is unknown, but the word became so synonymous with his company that when Henry Ford was developing a personal plane in 1926, he called it the Flivver. That vehicle, however, never got off the ground, so to speak. After Ford’s personal pilot was killed in a test run, the project was abandoned in 1928.

If you’re a flivver fan, this year’s big event is in Wayne County, Indiana from July 21-26. If you can’t make it, The Model T Ford Club has a calendar of Model T meetups from Scotland to Australia at

Take a look in our bookstore for books and DVDs on all kinds of slang! This week’s pick: Dewdroppers, Waldos, and Slackers: A Decade-by-Decade Guide to the Vanishing Vocabulary of the Twentieth Century by Rosemarie Ostler. In it, you’ll find other vintage terms, such as rubber cow and bed check Charlie.