Why is it Called Flea Market?

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Why is it Called Flea Market?

A flea market is a type of street market that provides space for vendors to sell previously owned goods, such as clothing, furniture, books, antiques, and collectibles. Flea markets are often seasonal and attract bargain hunters and collectors who are looking for unique and cheap items. But why are these markets called flea markets? Where does this name come from?

There are several theories and stories about the origin of the term flea market, but none of them is conclusive or definitive. In this article, we will explore some of the most popular and plausible explanations for the name of this type of market.


The French Connection

One of the most widely accepted theories is that the term flea market is a literal translation of the French marché aux puces, which means “market of fleas”.  According to this theory, the name comes from the outdoor bazaars of Paris, some of which have been around for hundreds of years.

The story goes that in the 1860s, a clever bargain hunter who was browsing through the old furniture and clothing at one of these markets noticed that some of the items were infested with fleas, the small insects that feed on blood and cause itching and irritation. He then coined the term le marché aux puces to describe the market, and the name stuck.

The first recorded use of the term flea market in English dates back to 1922, when G.S. Dougherty wrote in his book In Europe: “It is called the ‘Flea’ Market because there are so many second hand articles sold of all kinds that they are believed to gather fleas.” However, some researchers have found earlier references to the term in English, such as a letter from Denmark published in a New York newspaper in 1887, which mentioned the last day of a flea market.


The Flee Market

Another possible origin of the term flea market is based on a wordplay and a historical event. According to this theory, the name comes from the French word fuyer, which means “to flee” or “to run away”.

The story goes that in the late 18th century, the city planners of Paris decided to renovate and modernize the city, and in the process, they demolished some of the narrow streets and alleys where the second-hand markets were located. The vendors were forced to flee and relocate their stalls to other places. The English speakers who witnessed this event called these markets flee markets, which later became flea markets.

However, this theory has some problems, such as the lack of evidence and the inconsistency with the chronology. The term flee market does not appear in any historical documents, and the term flea market was already in use before the Parisian renovation.


The Dutch Influence

A third possible origin of the term flea market is related to the Dutch settlers who founded New York in the 17th century. According to this theory, the name comes from the Dutch word vlaie, which means “swamp” or “marsh”.

The story goes that the Dutch traders who settled in New York had an outdoor market near the East River, on a land that was once a salt marsh. They called this market the Vlaie Market, which the English speakers pronounced as Fly Market or Flea Market. The name referred to the swampy location of the market, not to the insects.

However, this theory also has some problems, such as the lack of connection and the ambiguity of the pronunciation. The term vlaie market does not appear in any Dutch documents, and the term flea market was not used in New York until the 20th century.


Conclusion

As we can see, the origin of the term flea market is somewhat a mystery. The prevailing belief is that it comes from the French marché aux puces, but there are other theories and stories that suggest different sources. The term may have multiple origins, or it may have evolved over time and place.

What is certain is that flea markets are a fascinating and fun way to shop for second-hand goods, and to discover the history and culture of different places. Flea markets are also a great example of sustainable consumption, as they promote the reuse and recycling of old items, and reduce the waste and pollution caused by mass production.


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