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To flog something is to sell it — especially to sell it cheaply. The word can straightforwardly mean to sell something, especially if the speaker is doing the selling: “I’ll get this round; I flogged me old camera yesterday.”

But the word has overtones of dishonesty, allowing the speaker to hint at underhanded dealings, even though no actual accusation has been made: “There’s a bloke who flogs mobile phones at the flea market.” The speaker may think that the seller’s title to the goods being sold is not beyond question — perhaps he has stolen them, or at least bought them from a dodgy source without asking too many questions.

Alternatively, the speaker suggests, the goods are not, perhaps, quite of the quality that the seller allows his customers to assume. In addition, an outfit that “flogs” something is unlikely to have a very robust returns policy, so if the item turns out to be faulty, the buyer will be — to use another colorful colloquialism — stuffed.

“This geezer in a pub flogged me a DVD player for a tenner, but it broke down next day, and I’ve never seen him since.”

The word originated in military slang, about the time of World War I. It would not have been in the vernacular of Lt. Milo Minderbender, the single-minded trader and American soldier who tries to sell chocolate-covered cotton in Joseph Heller’s “Catch 22.” But Minderbinder would have instantly recognized the usefulness of the term.

Mark Wainwright is a freelance writer living in Cambridge. Got a question about something you’ve seen or heard around the United Kingdom? E-mail us at:


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