Flea markets are open-air markets where sellers offer an eclectic array of new and secondhand goods, from furniture and collectibles to clothing and electronics. Browsing through a flea market reveals a vibrant mix of merchandise at bargain prices. But where did the name “flea market” come from in the first place?
The term flea market dates back to the late 1800s and originated in the New York City area. One popular theory suggests it derived from the French marché aux puces, which literally translates to “market of the fleas.” This was a reference to the open-air markets in Paris where secondhand goods were sold on the streets.
Some historians speculate that the “flea” designation referred to the fact that used merchandise and furniture sold at open-air markets was likely to contain actual fleas, especially in eras before modern cleaning methods and pest control. The goods were seen as potential carriers of pesky critters that could jump to buyers.
Another possible source is the Yiddish term flohmarkt or the German word flohmarkt. Both translate to “flea market” and may have been used by Jewish immigrants and merchants who operated in New York City markets.
By the 1900s, the term flea market was firmly entrenched and referred to any open-air bazaar selling an unpredictable mix of new or used merchandise. The reference to fleas came to reflect the chaotic, messy nature of these markets rather than implying literal insects.
Today, flea markets offer treasure hunters the thrill of discovery. At a flea market, one might uncover anything from antique furniture to vintage clothing to collectible glassware for a steal. Whether inspired by French, Yiddish, or German terms, flea market is now a universally recognized phrase reflecting the bustling commerce of secondhand goods. The next time you browse a flea market, imagine you are perusing the marché aux puces in 19th century Paris!