from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • adj. Unreliable or unscrupulous, especially with regard to business dealings: "fly-by-night telephone companies that open up shop, sell some systems, then disappear when service is needed” ( Mary Ellen Jordan).
  • adj. Of an impermanent or insubstantial nature: fly-by-night fashions in clothing.
  • n. An unscrupulous or undependable person, especially one who leaves secretly without paying creditors.
  • n. Something of a shaky or impermanent nature.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. A creature which flies at night; a nocturnal flier or traveler.
  • n. One who departs or flees at night in order to avoid creditors, law enforcement etc. (often used attributively).
  • n. A person or business that appears and disappears rapidly, or gives an impression of transience.
  • n. A traveling businessman or tradesman.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • n. A jib set like a studding-sail; a squaresail set on some sloops when running before the wind.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • n. a debtor who flees to avoid paying
  • adj. (of businesses and businessmen) unscrupulous
  • adj. ephemeral


Sorry, no etymologies found.



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  • Originally a nautical term describing a large sail that was used only for sailing downwind, thus requiring little attention.

    December 11, 2007