In Jean Rhys's short story "The Lotus" (published in the collection Tigers Are Better-Looking in 1968), I found the following piece of dialogue (emphasis added):

'Sarcastic, isn't she? A dainty little thing, but sarcastic.' Lotus got up, swayed and held on to the mantlepiece. 'Are you a mother, dear?'

'Do you mean me?'

'No, I can see you're not — and never will be if you can help it. You're too fly, aren't you? (...)'

I couldn't find "fly" as an adjective in Collins or Cambridge.

Wiktionary provides the following meanings:

  1. (slang, dated) Quick-witted, alert, mentally sharp.
  2. (slang) Well dressed, smart in appearance.
  3. (slang) Beautiful; displaying physical beauty.

Based on the story, the first meaning makes most sense. Can anybody confirms this?

  • fly in this context means, hip / trendy. I am just in passing so haven't got the time to look up a reference, but yes that's what it means. Happy New Year, by the way!
    – Gary
    Dec 31, 2017 at 16:14
  • Here's a relatively modern pop interpretation of the word... youtube.com/watch?v=QtTR-_Klcq8
    – Gary
    Dec 31, 2017 at 16:15
  • Speaker means addressee is too alert, mentally sharp to "accidentally" get pregnant and/or to devote her life to bringing up children. It wouldn't make much sense to say someone is too "attractive" to be a mother. Dec 31, 2017 at 16:15
  • I've always seen 'fly' as carrying a pejorative flavour, so more calculating, scheming, streetwise than say 'shrewd''s denotation. Dec 31, 2017 at 16:25
  • 1
    It's defined in Oxford: North American Fashionably attractive and impressive. ‘a fly dude’ en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/fly
    – JK2
    Jan 26, 2018 at 12:39

1 Answer 1


The passage can be rephrased as:-

Do you have children? No, I can see you're not — and never will be if you can help it. You're too fly, aren't you?

I see that as meaning being streetwise, knowing what is what and being prepared to deal with things. A slightly different take on definition 1.

on https://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/fly

you will find this definition of fly

fly 1. mod. knowledgeable; alert and in the know. This dude is fly; there’s no question about it. 2. mod. nice-looking; stylish. I like your fly shoes, Sam. McGraw-Hill's Dictionary of American Slang and Colloquial Expressions Copyright © 2006 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. All rights reserved.

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