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Word of the Week: ‘fleabag’


We take a closer look at the words and phrases that are trending online and in the media. This week: ‘fleabag’.


Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s award-winning British comedy Fleabag has finally returned to our screens, offering up some first-class inspiration for this week’s round of linguistic lunging and zeitgeist Zumba.

Searches on Google for the little-uttered word ‘fleabag’ have shot through the roof, while the smorgasbord of online articles about Waller-Bridge all touch on one thing: why the title Fleabag? What does it mean? 

And that’s where we come in.

You might jump straight to the obvious conclusion – that it refers to someone or something infested with fleas, but definitions of ‘fleabag’ vary depending on your geography. In the UK, a ‘fleabag’ generally means: “a dirty, unkempt or unpleasant person or animal”.

In the US however, it is defined as to “a seedy or dilapidated hotel”, or “a worthless racehorse”.

What we can gather is that the overarching meaning of the word – first recorded in 1825 – is one of general unpleasantness. 

This begs the question, how is a show – and its protagonist – named after such apparent unattractiveness so damn popular?


The answer is in Waller-Bridge’s creation, ‘fleabag’ herself. 

Waller-Bridge states the name ‘fleabag’ imbues the show with the “subtext of “fleabaggy-ness”. It felt right because, “there’s a messy connotation to it”.

This “fleabaggy-ness” only contrasts with the protagonist’s general…put-togetherness. The unnamed ‘fleabag’ is all chic trench coats, carefully applied lipstick, feminist lectures and silent wellness retreats. But she is also all broke, sad, angry, seemingly nameless and sometimes, cruel, as she tries to navigate London millennial life.

‘Fleabag’ has therefore taken on a new meaning as the messy millennial experience. Outwardly achieving, glowing, avocado-on-toast-ing – but inwardly flailing and doubting.

Despite the fact her attitude and behaviour, her obvious fleabaggy-ness, often goes against what society usually tells us is the ‘norm’, Waller-Bridge’s antihero is lovable and relatable.  Perhaps this is where the Urban Dictionary’s definition of ‘fleabag’ gains relevance: “an affectionate name for an old dog or cat with fleas”. 

We are all old dogs and cats with our own unappealing ticks and fleas. Waller-Bridge’s interpretation of the word ‘fleabag’, and the public’s celebration of it, shows that hey, even if you view yourself as: “a greedy, perverted, selfish, apathetic, cynical, depraved, morally bankrupt woman who can’t even call herself a feminist” (episode #1.1), society will still love you. 

And so, in a truly philosophical sign off, go forth and embrace your flea-ridden self.

Read more:

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