Why Is It Called a Flea Market

Written By Michael Kahn

Flea markets are a common sight in many cities and towns, offering a wide variety of goods at affordable prices, but why is it called a flea market to begin with? The name “flea market” is a curious one, and its origins are shrouded in mystery and folklore. Let’s delve into the history, theories, and cultural significance of flea markets, providing a detailed understanding of this fascinating term.

Why Is It Called a Flea Market?


Understanding the term “flea market” requires a journey into history, language, and culture. From the bustling streets of Paris to the local community gatherings, flea markets have become an integral part of our society.

Historical Background

The Origins of Flea Markets

Flea markets have been around for centuries, with roots in Europe. They were initially places where people could sell used or unwanted items, often in open-air settings.

Parisian Connection

One of the earliest references to a flea market is found in Paris, France. The French term “marché aux puces” translates to “market of fleas,” and was used to describe a market in Paris where used goods were sold (Source: Oxford English Dictionary).

Spread to America

Flea markets made their way to America in the 19th century and quickly became popular. They were seen as places to find unique and affordable items, and their popularity continues to grow.

Theories Behind the Name

Several theories attempt to explain the origin of the term “flea market.”

The Flea Infestation Theory

This theory suggests that the term came from the flea-infested goods sold at these markets. Since many items were used and in poor condition, they were often infested with fleas (Source: Etymology Online).

The Fly Fling Theory

Another theory posits that the term comes from an English mistranslation of the French “marché aux puces.” The word “flea” in English sounds similar to the French word “fling,” referring to the way vendors would toss their goods onto tables for sale (Source: Word Histories).

The Location Theory

Some believe that the term “flea market” originated from the location where these markets were held. In New York, for example, a famous flea market was held at a site known as the “Fly Market.” The name could have evolved from “Fly” to “Flea” over time (Source: New York Times).

Cultural Significance

Flea markets have become more than just places to buy and sell goods.

A Symbol of Bargain Hunting

They represent the thrill of finding hidden treasures and the joy of bargain hunting.

Community Gathering Places

Flea markets also serve as community gathering spots, fostering social interactions and connections between diverse groups of people.

Influence on Modern Retail

Modern retail concepts, such as pop-up shops and vintage stores, have been influenced by the flea market tradition, blending the old with the new.

Impact on Art and Creativity

Why Is It Called a Flea Market

Flea markets have also become hubs for artists and creative minds.

A Source of Inspiration

Artists often find inspiration in the eclectic mix of items found at flea markets.

A Platform for Emerging Artists

Many artists use flea markets as platforms to showcase and sell their work, reaching a wider audience.

Just a Flea Market

The term “flea market” is rich in history, meaning, and cultural significance. Whether it’s the connection to flea-infested goods, a mistranslation from French, or a reference to a specific location, the name has become a symbol of community, creativity, and economic savvy.

The exploration of why is it called a flea market provides a window into human behavior, economics, and social interactions. It’s more than just a place to buy and sell; it’s a reflection of our values, our connections, and our shared history.


  1. Oxford English Dictionary, “Flea Market.”
  2. Etymology Online, “Flea Market.”
  3. Word Histories, “The Origins of the Term ‘Flea Market’.”
  4. New York Times, “The History of Flea Markets in New York.”

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