Always Keep A Flapper In The Family

art by Milo Winter, 1912
art by Milo Winter, 1912

Long before Flappers became famous as the wild-dancing, booze-drinking, convention-flouting young women of the Roaring ’20s, Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels told us about the Flappers of Laputa, the valuable servants who made sure their masters weren’t completely oblivious to life’s more important matters:

I observed, here and there, many in the habit of servants, with a blown bladder, fastened like a flail to the end of a stick, which they carried in their hands.  In each bladder was a small quantity of dried peas, or little pebbles, as I was afterwards informed.  With these bladders, they now and then flapped the mouths and ears of those who stood near them, of which practice I could not then conceive the meaning.  It seems the minds of these people are so taken up with intense speculations, that they neither can speak, nor attend to the discourses of others, without being roused by some external taction upon the organs of speech and hearing; for which reason, those persons who are able to afford it always keep a flapper in their family, as one of their domestics; nor ever walk abroad, or make visits, without him.  And the business of this officer is, when two, three, or more persons are in company, gently to strike with his bladder the mouth of him who is to speak, and the right ear of him or them to whom the speaker addresses himself.  This flapper is likewise employed diligently to attend his master in his walks, and upon occasion to give him a soft flap on his eyes; because he is always so wrapped up in cogitation, that he is in manifest danger of falling down every precipice, and bouncing his head against every post; and in the streets, of justling others, or being justled himself into the kennel.

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