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Peter Mucha, "Lottery legend Joan Ginther bet flabbering sums on scratch-offs", philly.com 7/6/2014:

For years, people who dream of beating the lottery have puzzled over the amazing case of Joan Ginther, who made headlines around the world by scratching off “10MILL” on a $50 instant ticket in June 2010 to win her fourth multimillion-dollar prize. 

Skeptics wondered if she cheated or had an ingenious system for pinpointing winners. After all, Ginther received a Ph.D. from Stanford and has lived for years in Las Vegas. News reports at the time, citing mathematicians, fueled the fire: They put Ginther's chances of four such wins at 1 in 18 septillion. Remarkably, all four of her winners were purchased in or near her tiny hometown of Bishop, Texas. […]

Finally, answers have been found.

A series of discoveries based on painstaking analysis by Philly.com of newly obtained Texas Lottery records, with the help of experts, has led to a surprising conclusion: Basic gambling principles — like card counting in blackjack, money management in poker, and timing in progressive slots — may have inspired Joan Ginther to buy a flabbergasting number of $20 to $50 tickets, perhaps 80,000 worth $2.5 million or more.

"Flabbering" in the headline seems to be an editorial shortening of "flabbergasting" in the body of the story. To my surprise, the OED has no entry for flabber — it's unusual for such a phonotactically cromulent word not to exist even as, say, the name of a regional delicacy made from oatmeal fried in lard.

The OED's etymology for flabbergast doesn't offer any comfort:

First mentioned in 1772 as a new piece of fashionable slang; possibly of dialectal origin; Moor 1823 records it as a Suffolk word, and Jamieson, Suppl. 1825, has flabrigast to gasconade, flabrigastit worn out with exertion, as used in Perthshire. The formation is unknown; it is plausibly conjectured that the word is an arbitrary invention suggested by flabby adj. or flap n. and aghast adj.

There are plenty of current internet examples, but mostly not in directions that support the headline.

Obligatory screenshot:

[h/t Jeffrey Kallberg]


  1. Bobbie said,

    July 7, 2014 @ 11:37 am

    Flabbering = when people remark how you look since you lost 150 pounds without exercising.

  2. Martin J Ball said,

    July 7, 2014 @ 12:18 pm

    @Bobbie Ah, Douglas Adams, thou livest yet ….

  3. Lars said,

    July 7, 2014 @ 12:22 pm

    Sound like a mash-up of flabbergasting and staggering.

  4. Mark Meckes said,

    July 7, 2014 @ 1:23 pm

    As a probabilist I can't help commenting on that 1 in 18 septillion figure. Those are probably the odds of one given person who bought tickets for those exact four jackpots on those exact four days winning all four. The odds of a person who buys lots of tickets winning large jackpots several times, while still possibly remote, would be a lot higher. And the odds that, in a world (like this one) in which lots of people buy lots of tickets, some person will win some four or more large jackpots, aren't that remote at all.

    In a big world, coincidences happen, and they don't necessarily demand explanations.

  5. Thomas Thurman said,

    July 7, 2014 @ 2:08 pm

    I looked through Google Books for "flabber", but almost all the cases were about "flabbergast", "flibber-flabber" or similar, or "slabber" as in slabber-sauce. I did wonder if I'd found something useful in "Encyclopedia of African American Popular Culture" but it seems to be a transcription error: http://i.imgur.com/JS52iDM.png

  6. Douglas Bagnall said,

    July 7, 2014 @ 6:10 pm

    The headline now says "flabbergasting".

  7. cameron said,

    July 7, 2014 @ 7:36 pm

    Never has my flabber been so gasted.

  8. Jacob said,

    July 7, 2014 @ 8:05 pm

    Flabber is a phantasm from the seventh dimension, and resides in Hillhurst.


  9. John Lawler said,

    July 7, 2014 @ 10:39 pm

    If it's any help, flabber is certainly phonosemantically coherent with the "Repeated Small Motions" sense of the FL- assonance.

    I suspect any mathematical description will involve the term cover, which is coherent with the "Two-Dimensional Non-Extended" sense, as well.

  10. Stephen Goranson said,

    July 8, 2014 @ 5:33 am

    Here's a related usage from 1777, available in ECCO and Google Books:
    "I almost made my head ach in hunting about for excuses, for indeed so many came to mind at once, that they quite _flabergastined_ me; but at length my uncle you know, sir, sent me away himself to receive some money…."
    Liberal Opinions, or the history of Benignus by Courtney Melmoth (Samuel Jackson Pratt) (London 1777) vol. 3 page 116.

  11. Vertebrat said,

    July 9, 2014 @ 10:46 pm

    a regional delicacy made from oatmeal fried in lard

    OK, I made some! I used butter instead of lard, so it's not authentic flabber, but nobody makes authentic flabber these days.

    I did a different kind of Breakfast Experiment and tried several variations. Results and suggestions for future flabbergastronomes:

    1.The oatmeal should be thick, or it will fall apart. Mine was not thick enough. It might be best to use leftover oatmeal that's solidified. If it's very solid, it could be sliced instead of being gooshed into blobs.

    2. …or add an egg to help hold it together.

    3. Smaller blobs are less apt to fall apart.

    4. Fry only briefly, so it doesn't get too greasy. (The oatmeal is already cooked; it doesn't need more.) Maybe drain on a towel to reduce the grease.

    5. Add seasonings. I tried garlic, thyme and pepper. Use a lot; there's nothing as obstinately bland as oatmeal.

    6. Add vegetables. I tried beans and mushrooms, but any soft, quick-cooking vegetable would probably work: grated zucchini, minced onions. (Anything that works in croquettes will probably work in flabber.)

    7. …but not fruit. I added a banana, which is fine in oatmeal but not in flabber. Fruit would make a good accompaniment, though, perhaps in the form of a lassi or milkshake.

    8. Fry it in bacon grease (and eat it with the bacon).

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