Definition: A cheap hotel. A dosshouse. A ‘workman’s hotel’.

Pronunciation: Flop-haus


Flophouse originated in American hobo slang in the late 19th century. It was first written down in November 1904, when the following appeared in an article about Cincinnati in McClure’s Magazine:

“In one of the slum districts stands the Silver Moon, a “flop house” (i.e., a house where the occupants are “flopped” out of their hanging bunks by letting down the ropes) ….

Although this was the first written reference to the word, it is now believed that the author probably got the etymology of the word wrong. It is now believed that the word derived from the idea of a place with a cheap bed that you could ‘flop’ ones-self down onto.

Why This Word:

There are still a few weeks of summer left – and some of you will still be planning your vacations. I know the routine – I’ve been there. A cheap holiday website – click around the hotels – try to compare the different prices and star ratings … and end up getting it wrong in the end. That three star deluxe turned out to be nothing more than a glorified hostel …

But what if we borrowed the terminology of the early 20th century? If we knew a place was a ‘flophouse’, we’d know that we were getting a shabby bed for a cheap price and nothing more. If it was a Cage Hotel, we’d know that it was a step up from a flophouse in that you’d at least get some sort of cubicle to oneself.

How to use this word:

If you describe a bad hotel to your friends as a flophouse, they will understand you. It is instantly recognisable.

“The hotel? Don’t talk to me about the hotel! It was a cheap, squalid flophouse.

For me, however, there is a future for this word in a new ‘honest’ hotel classification system that runs from ‘Palace of Realised Dreams’ all the way down to the lowly flophouse. The next move is yours, ….


What do you think?

1000 points
Upvote Downvote

Written by Sean Carabini

Seán Carabini is a Dublin-based author. To date, Seán has written the humorous travel memoirs 'Sticking Out in Minnesota' and 'American Road', as well as 'American Road: The poems' - a book of travel poetry related to the memoir. Seán has also developed a podcast based on the book - subscribe to the American Road podcast today! Seán is a committee member of the Irish Writers' Union.

Chrissy Skelton is Seán Carabini's editor. A graduate of the University of Minnesota's Anthropology programme, Chrissy emerged armed with an arsenal of little-known words and cumbersome jargon - all of which will now be off-loaded onto 'unusedwords' readers!


Leave a Reply