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Etymology 1[edit]

From Middle English flikeren (to flutter), from Old English flicerian, flicorian (to flutter).

Akin to Saterland Frisian flikkerje (to flicker), West Frisian flikkerje (to flicker), Dutch flikkeren (to flicker, flutter), German Low German flickern (to light up, flash, flicker). Compare Old English flacor (flickering, fluttering), German flackern (to flicker, flutter), Old English flēoġan (to fly).


flicker (countable and uncountable, plural flickers)

  1. An unsteady flash of light.
    the flicker of the dying candle
    the flicker of a poorly tuned television set
  2. (figurative) A short moment.
    a flicker of hope
    a flicker of recognition passed through my mind.
    • 1963, Margery Allingham, chapter 8, in The China Governess: A Mystery, London: Chatto & Windus, →OCLC:
      It was a casual sneer, obviously one of a long line. There was hatred behind it, but of a quiet, chronic type, nothing new or unduly virulent, and he was taken aback by the flicker of amazed incredulity that passed over the younger man's ravaged face.
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flicker (third-person singular simple present flickers, present participle flickering, simple past and past participle flickered)

  1. (intransitive) To burn or shine unsteadily, or with a wavering light.
    • 1832 December (indicated as 1833), Alfred Tennyson, “The Death of the Old Year”, in Poems, London: Edward Moxon, [], →OCLC:
      The shadows flicker to and fro.
    • 1907 August, Robert W[illiam] Chambers, chapter III, in The Younger Set, New York, N.Y.: D. Appleton & Company, →OCLC:
      Long after his cigar burnt bitter, he sat with eyes fixed on the blaze. When the flames at last began to flicker and subside, his lids fluttered, then drooped; but he had lost all reckoning of time when he opened them again to find Miss Erroll in furs and ball-gown kneeling on the hearth and heaping kindling on the coals, []
  2. (intransitive) To keep going on and off; to appear and disappear for short moments; to flutter.
    A strong desire to smash up everything in the room kept flickering in his head.
    • 1898, J. Meade Falkner, chapter 3, in Moonfleet, London, Toronto, Ont.: Jonathan Cape, published 1934:
      There I lay on one side with a thin and rotten plank between the dead man and me, dazed with the blow to my head, and breathing hard; while the glow of torches as they came down the passage reddened and flickered on the roof above.
    • 1908 October, Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows, New York, N.Y.: Charles Scribner’s Sons, →OCLC:
      The ruddy brick floor smiled up at the smoky ceiling; the oaken settles, shiny with long wear, exchanged cheerful glances with each other; plates on the dresser grinned at pots on the shelf, and the merry firelight flickered and played over everything without distinction.
    • 1915 June, T[homas] S[tearns] Eliot, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”, in Prufrock and Other Observations, London: The Egotist [], published 1917, →OCLC, page 13:
      I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker, / And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker, / And in short, I was afraid.
    • 1967, Barry Mason (writer), Tom Jones (performer), Delilah
      I saw the light on the night that I passed by her window / I saw the flickering shadow of love on her blind
    • 2017 April 6, Samira Shackle, “On the frontline with Karachi’s ambulance drivers”, in Katharine Viner, editor, The Guardian[1], London: Guardian News & Media, →ISSN, →OCLC:
      In a city where media companies and hospitals have armed guards, this accessibility is unusual. Inside, drivers sit and chat in between shifts, the overhead fan whirring and causing the dim electric light to flicker over their faces.
      (Can we archive this URL?)
  3. (transitive, intransitive) To flutter or flap.

Etymology 2[edit]

1808, American English, probably echoic of the bird's call, or from the white spotted plumage which appears to flicker.


flicker (plural flickers)

a northern flicker
  1. (US) Any of certain small woodpeckers, especially of the genus Colaptes.
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Etymology 3[edit]

flick +‎ -er


flicker (plural flickers)

  1. One who flicks.
Derived terms[edit]