Why Flabby Is a Fine Adjective for 2020 and Beyond

Kristen M. Hallows
4 min readDec 30, 2020
Photo by visuals on Unsplash

I first encountered the word flabby used creatively in the Adam Smith, Esq. blog. I read Bruce MacEwen’s law firm commentary mainly for the quality and sparkle of the writing and, at the time, I thought it was a thoughtful use of a word typically confined to, at least in my experience, less-than-taut midsections. Naturally, all efforts to find the post have been unsuccessful, but I’m certain of the origin.

While introducing what I had observed as the all-too-common default use of the word relevant in a piece I wrote for an industry magazine, I warned that “a [flabby] directive” may “cloud a well-articulated vision.” In other words, instead of expressing the hackneyed need to stay relevant, figure out what you really need or want, and communicate that. To be flabby is to be unoriginal at best, unclear at worst.

But an editor plucked it out like a defective would-be product from an assembly line, saying it “just doesn’t work here.” She substituted loose, and I dialed down my zeal.

Should sophisticated readers and writers alike search out this offbeat word to find their next read or source of inspiration?

How do you define a word that is so common, yet so relatively pigeonholed? Here’s what you’ll find in Merriam-Webster:

1 : lacking resilience or firmness : FLACCID

2 : weak and ineffective : FEEBLE

Could the choice of this word be a solid indicator of writing panache? Should sophisticated readers and writers alike search out this offbeat word to find their next read or source of inspiration? Also, when used in an unusual or unanticipated way, can we ever know what the writer intended?

Google Books’ Ngram Viewer tells me the use of flabby was on the rise from roughly 1840 to the end of the 19th century. Then, its use gradually declined over the next one hundred years until the year 2000, at which time it began to experience a gentle resurgence, one that presumably continues to this very day.

Next, I turned to JSTOR, the self-described “digital library for the intellectually curious.” I found only one article published in the last twenty years with the word…

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Kristen M. Hallows

Kristen’s work has appeared in literary magazines, scholarly journals, trade publications, and elsewhere. Please visit kristenmhallows.com to learn more.