I got some delicious parkin from Sheffield’s Castle Market yesterday, which reminded me I’d been asked to look into the origins of flapjack.

Parkin is an oaty treacle ginger cake. It keeps really well, and has been eaten by the northern working classes at least since Victorian times, probably much longer; in Yorkshire, it is associated with Guy Fawkes Night.

I can’t tell you why it’s called parkin but, like Perkin, the name is a diminutive of Peter.

The word flapjack originated from around 1600. In the USA and in Shakespeare, it is a kind of pancake, but we all know it as a gooey oaty biscuit/cake (yum). It can also be a powder compact.

To flap once meant to flip or toss with a sharp movement (as you do when making a pancake). Jack has lots of meanings – it takes up a whole page in my dictionary: a version of John, a playing card, apparatus that lifts heavy objects, a device that takes the place of a servant, a socket and the plug that fits it… If you don’t know what to call it, jack will do!

So flapjack probably means a thing that is flipped. It seems to be one of those words used when something doesn’t have a proper name, like thingummyjig.

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