On Fleek: A Definitive History

We delved through some 19th century literature to investigate the origins of "fleek."

Not Available Lead
Image via Complex Original
Not Available Lead

Fleek. I suppose it’s time to address this. The word has ascended its Vine birth and officially entered a level of public ubiquity that has your aunt currently incorporating it into her post-salon Facebook post flurries. This means, of course, that it’s curtains for the word. So, in memoriam, let’s take a look at its brief yet monumental impact on our vocabulary.

Before getting into the actual relevant facts of the situation, let’s dig a little bit deeper. And by deeper, I mean older. In this 1801 translation of Plutarch’s Lives, originally written in the 1st century, we discover early usage of the word in question.


“fleek fellows I am afraid of, but the pale and the lean.”

A 21st Century interpretation of this quote might read something like “These Romans have grown pale, due to their relentless abuse of lean. Their eyebrows, however, have remained as they were, on fleek.”

The truth, however, is that the word “fleek,” as it is used in this translation, really means “sleek.” And though the word “sleek” is often used to describe hair, eyebrows, and such, it seems that we haven’t gotten anywhere—yet. Let’s look at another text. The following is an excerpt from a Welsh-English dictionary, written by a man named William Owen Pughe in 1803.


This appears to be a translation of a word “Mwythus” into the following: “Puffed up, fleek, delicate, nice.” By the transitive property,  this means that the word “fleek,” according to the linguistic relationship between the Welsh and English languages, can also refer to being “puffed up,” “delicate,” and even “nice.” I think we might be making some headway. Despite the fact that in this case, we’re probably still dealing in F’s that replace S’s, the etymological implications are astounding. But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s visit another text.

This one is from an 1847 publication of Sharpe’s London Magazine, in which we discover more early usage of the word. This time, we’re dealing in direct description.


“And only, alas! In the midnight hour, When the cold pale moonbeams fleek.”

Wow, bars. The author, in this case, clearly believed that the cold pale moonbeams were on fleek that night. Case closed. Little did he know, he was predicting a future of Internet meme culture that he could only have imagined. Incredible. And in this case, since one of his next bars reads, “The waves, shall we rise from our gentle sleep,” there’s clearly a distinction between the letter “s” and the letter “f.” Can we finally draw some ancestral connection between 1847 British poetry and the fact that Vine celebrity Peaches Monroe had eyebrows that were allegedly on fleek almost two centuries later?



On June 21st, 2014, Peaches Monroe dropped a Vine in which she recites, verbatim: “We in this bitch. Finna get crunk. Eyebrows on fleek. Da fuq.” Was her extraordinary rendition not just a shift in modern culture, but also a reference to obscure British poetry from 1847? We may never know. We're not even completely sure how Ms. Monroe would define the term. Even though there's no agreed upon definition, the word along with its accompanying preposition is most often used to describe something as the way it should be in its proper state, or at its prime. The expression "on point" serves as a valuable (but far less interesting, due to its having a total of zero made up words in it) synonym.


What we can confirm is its legacy in our current epoch. According to Google Trends, usage of the word has skyrocketed in 2014, due to such curiosity-provoked queries as "on fleek," "fleek eyebrows," "eyebrows on fleek," "what does fleek," and "fleek dictionary." But what do statistics mean without empirical, cultural symbols of the word's triumph? In August of this year, Ariana Grande immortalized “on fleek” by re-enacting the original Vine in a cappella song form.


After more than 3 million Vine loops and an equal number of YouTube views, where does it go from here? Can it evolve, can it transcend this crystallization? No. Seemingly, as quickly as it was born (well, reborn, as we have learned), its tombstone was inscribed on fleek:


Yes, as we all know, once advertisements begin to mirror reality, the party is officially over. How can we continue to use the words “on fleek” if we know for a fact that each time we say it, we are literally selling pancakes? There exists a measurable ratio between how many times you personally use the word “fleek” and how many pancakes iHop sells as a result. America has a big enough atherosclerosis problem as it is. If you truly want to use it, or some version of it, perhaps consult the Welsh translation that we visited earlier. “Mwythus,” or whatever it was. "Eyebrows on mwythus, da fuq." Yes, that has a nice ring to it.

Alex Russell doesn't know shit about linguistics, etymology, or eyebrows. He is, however, on Twitter @alexrussellglo.

Latest in Music