The other day I was having coffee with a friend who was recounting a recent performance schedule, a performance for which he was just under the wire in writing the piece itself. I listened to him describe the sequence of events, the logistical considerations for the performance, and trying to finish writing – and then memorizing – the piece just days for before the performance. His demeanor as he spoke was calm and rather on the reportorial side.
I said, “You are really unflappable.”
And then I got distracted by the word “unflappable.”
It means not easily perturbed or excitable or upset. It is marked by calm and composure, persistently steady, a sense of self-possession. And that’s what I witnessed in my friend, who was thus as he described the situation, and he has been thus unflappable in the actual situation.
I admire that in a person. I often feel at mercy of my emotions or drama or incidences in my life. And when I’m describing such incidences or telling a story, I can feel my emotions recreate themselves.
I like that word. It’s fun to say, and it has a sort of visual quality, or a 3-dimensional quality, if you will. One of my sources indicates an original or early traceable usage from 1958: from un- (1) “not” + flap (v.) + -able. Originally used in ref. to Harold Macmillan, British P.M. 1957-63.
I can only speculate as to its origins. I think of its ostensible antonym, “flappable.” It made me envision an agitated chicken running to and fro, creating an audible flapping sound with its wings. The other chickens would get a kick out of this, and remark to each other, “Yeah, Charlotte, she’s easily agitated. Start talking to her about the best Dr. Who, and just wait till she makes her wings flap like crazy.”
And then that evolved to Charlotte being utterly flappable. When a new, calm, Zen hen joined up, they couldn’t get the same rise out of her, and thus, she was said to be “unflappable.”
Well, that’s how I imagine it all went down.