Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Flea Market : Meaning and origin

What is a Flea Market, origin and meaning?
The concept of flea markets has been around for thousands of years, but with different names.
What is sold at flea markets? The definitions most often cited refer to second-hand items that are cheap. Some definitions include items that are cheap but not necessarily used, as in new. The golden thread throughout all definitions is cheap. Cheap can be defined as value for money, bargains, inexpensive, low price and a bunch of others words all meaning cheap.
How did the flea get into the market? This is where things get confusing. There is no consensus as to the origin of the flea in flea market. (The only consensus is that fleas were not on sale.) Internet articles mostly refer to old clothes and furniture that could have been infested with these parasites due to the nature, age and source of the articles. Interestingly, none of the articles I read, explicitly stated that the items were infested. Could, possibly, might, and potentially are the words usually used.
There are three versions as to the source of the flea in flea market.
The most popular version appears to be that the name was derived from the French words “marché aux puces” which referred to a market on the outskirts of Paris in the 1880’s that sold second-hand items. Marché translating to market and Puces translating to fleas. (This origin has the most credible sources, but there are differences in the finer detail, which one can expect after all the years)
The second version relates to the same words, but interprets marché as walking. It would appear as though significant changes were made to the infrastructure of Paris during the same period and the vendors in the city were banned from selling within the city limits and had to walk to the outskirts of the city to conduct business. In this version the word “flee” is used with the interpretation of walking away. Not much support for this origin that I could find.
A third version, not often cited, is that it is from Dutch origin during the period when the Dutch had settled on Manhattan Island. The markets were held in a swampy area and the Dutch word for swamp is given as “vlie”, which sounds like flea when spoken in English. In Afrikaans a “vlei” is a shallow depression that may or may not have permanent water. But again Vlo is Dutch for flea. So my subjective interpretation is that the Dutch origin was a translation of French flea market into Dutch. In Afrikaans the word is “vlooimark”. The time lines and possible misinterpretation of the meanings of words give credibility to the French origin.
It’s not over until the fat lady sings or something to that effect. At the last moment I found this:-

“ Legend has it that in 1880, an unknown bargain hunter was looking down from the top of the fortifications over the array of scrap metal, old furniture and scrap rags, and he exclaimed, “My word, it’s a flea market”

Lots more detail from this French site, in English
Image from Wikipedia

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