I try to find the meaning of flit in the below occurrence but, after searching quite some dictionaries, am not able to. Can you help with explaining what 'flit' means below? I would appreciate if you can give me more examples of this usage.

“It likened it to the sense of adventure that the early European explorers had, in that they would just go sailing without knowing what was out there,” Stevens said recently. Not long afterward, the couple saw a production of Beckett’s “Happy Days,” in which a woman flits away the hours while stuck in sand. It reminded Stevens of space travel—“The isolation, and how you fill the time.”

When “Spaceman” Came Crashing Down to Earth/New Yorker

3 Answers 3


The original author of When “Spaceman” Came Crashing Down to Earth" was kind enough to reply to a cry for help from OldBrixtonian ('Peter'). With his permission, here is the definitive answer to Tom Bennett's question.

Hi Peter,

Thanks for reaching out - how funny that this caused a whole thread! I admit that I used "flit away" instinctively and no one at The New Yorker questioned it to my knowledge. It may be that "flit away" is not a common usage. But "fritter away" doesn't feel right. Winnie, the character in "Happy Days," has a frantic and hyperactive personality and flits from one inane topic to another as she prattles on to her husband, Willie. So I guess the usage is the same as if you said "she shopped the afternoon away" or "he gambled the hours away." But I can see why it raised an eyebrow.

All best,

Michael Schulman

  • Yes, so you can see that what I said was right and that he used it as I intuited. I don't think it is fair for you to say this is the definitive answer though. It wasn't necessary to reach out to him though I do like that he agrees with what I said about the usage. I have two downvotes on my answer. Boy, what a crowd.
    – Lambie
    Jul 3, 2019 at 14:31
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    Wow! @OldBrixtonian, many thanks for reaching out to the original author and getting the definitive answer!! Jul 3, 2019 at 16:12
  • Yeah, so the author says what he meant which is what I said he meant. I really do not know why I bothered with this.
    – Lambie
    Jul 3, 2019 at 16:31
  • @Lambie I was wrong, as I said. I couldn't see it. I've upvoted your comment beginning c. intransitive verbs and have put upon me the garments of penitence (some of which are actually quite nice!) Jul 3, 2019 at 17:28

Oxford English Dictionary

c. Of time: To pass away. 1573 J. Baret Aluearie F 706 Time flitted away quickly. 1582 R. Stanyhurst tr. Virgil First Foure Bookes Æneis i. 8 Hee shal bee the regent, vntil yeers thirtye be flitted. 1868 W. Morris Earthly Paradise 72 So smoothly o'er our heads the days did flit.

It is rather literary. And that's what The New Yorker is, literary.

Flit away the time or hours.

Flitting also brings to mind the movement of things that are not heavy: butterflies, small birds, etc.

Elephants do not "flit". :)

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    No. That sense, (like almost all senses given for flit in the OED) is intransitive. Hours can flit: having people can't flit them is a neologism.
    – Colin Fine
    Jun 30, 2019 at 16:42
  • @ColinFine I disagree. "time [was] flitted away quickly [by a person]". To pass away is not passive. The woman's action is like the fusion of time and a butterfly. If the term had been misused either poetically or literally, the editors would have changed it. Personally, I think the image is very strong.
    – Lambie
    Jun 30, 2019 at 17:00
  • @Lambie In your examples can you see one where the verb is transitive? Your definition - to pass away - is intransitive. You don't pass something away: you simply pass away. In your examples, time flits, years flit and days flit. But not one of them flits something. Can you see the difference? You think it's very strong: I think it's simply wrong. If I were to say "she slept him", "he fainted her", "I fall them", or "they arrived it" would it be poetic? Or literary? I expect it's a rare mistake by the subs. Fritter and flit do look and sound quite similar after all. Jun 30, 2019 at 20:51
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    c. intransitive verbs, which are thereby rendered transitive, as ‘to sigh away one's life,’ ‘to idle away one's time,’ ‘to sleep the day away.’ There are verbs which are scarcely or not at all used without it, as ‘to while the time away,’ ‘to fool one's money away’ (to part with it like a fool). OED So, there it is. the "away" makes it transitive....
    – Lambie
    Jul 1, 2019 at 10:53
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    @Lambie You were right! I couldn't see it that way for some reason. So I wrote to Michael Schulman and asked him to settle it! And he very kindly replied and graciously allowed me to post his reply. Being authoritative it should go in an answer rather than a comment I think. The original questioner then gets alerted to it I believe. Is that right? Jul 3, 2019 at 11:25

Flit is wrong there, I think.

Thoughts flit through your mind. Birds flit about in the trees. In your example flit is used as a transitive verb. Although the word has various meanings, it is never a transitive verb. So the woman can't flit anything.

It was probably meant to be

fritters away

fritter something away Waste time, money, or energy on trifling matters.

So she fritters away the time doing inconsequential things.

  • I don't think The New Yorker makes those kinds of mistakes.
    – Lambie
    Jun 30, 2019 at 17:34

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