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Online Etymology dictionary suggests it's "likely an arbitrary formation from flabby or flapper and aghast". I'm wondering if anyone has any more insight.

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Would downvoters care to comment? –  Lunivore Dec 26 '11 at 13:02

3 Answers 3

up vote 6 down vote accepted

Here’s the OED’s etymological note (lightly edited):

First mentioned in 1772 as a new piece of fashionable slang; possibly of dialectal origin; Moor 1823 records it as a Suffolk word, and Jamieson, Supplement 1825, has flabrigast, 'to gasconade' [to boast extravagantly], flabrigastit 'worn out with exertion', as used in Perthshire. The formation is unknown; it is plausibly conjectured that the word is an arbitrary invention suggested by flabby adj. or flap n. and aghast adj.

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Thank you! And thank you also for "gasconade" - new vocab for Christmas, perfect. –  Lunivore Dec 26 '11 at 11:18

Here's a little elaboration on the same from Quinion's WWW:

It turns up first in print in 1772, in an article on new words in the Annual Register. The writer couples two fashionable terms: “Now we are flabbergasted and bored from morning to night”. (Bored — being wearied by something tedious — had appeared only a few years earlier.) Presumably some unsung genius had put together flabber and aghast to make one word.

The source of the first part is obscure. It might be linked to flabby, suggesting that somebody is so astonished that they shake like a jelly. It can’t be connected with flapper, in the sense of a person who fusses or panics, as some have suggested, as that sense only emerged at the end of the nineteenth century. But flabbergasted could have been an existing dialect word, as one early nineteenth-century writer claimed to have found it in Suffolk dialect and another — in the form flabrigast — in Perthshire. Further than this, nobody can go with any certainty.

And here's the clip from the above-mentioned 1772 Annual Register:

Annual Register clip

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thank you very much. I have already selected a good answer I'm afraid but would have loved to give this one the honor! Upvote all the same. –  Lunivore Jan 3 '12 at 13:11
    
@Lunivore: No worries. Just adding bits here and there for the benefit of all. –  Callithumpian Jan 3 '12 at 22:17

Just an idea: I wonder if "flabbergast" has anything to do with OE frófregást (Old High German fluobargeist), a word meaning literally "consoler" or "comforter" and coined to translate the Greco-Latin paracletus which sometimes refers to the Holy Spirit in Vulgate translations of the New Testament. It is easy to imagine the possibly playful coinage of a participial form "flabbergasted" that would originally have meant to be somehow overwhelmed or dumbstruck by the Holy Spirit, the modern usage having completely lost any specifically religious connotation.

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