Lord Prescott, as we must now call him, has long appalled and delighted journalists with his tortured relationship to the English language. His syntax gets muddled, his grasp of vocabulary is strained, every one pokes fun at his English, yet he is not ineffective as an orator and he has a loyal political following.
Two years ago, asked by The Scotsman newspaper whether he was looking forward to a place in the Lords, he memorably declared
I’m against too much flunkery and titles.
— thus producing an idiosyncratic coinage of his own making, a blend of flunkey and flummery.
Both of these words have interesting origins.
According to the OED a flunkey, a male servant in livery, a footman, is a word of Scottish origin (or, as the OED words it, “orig. Scotch”), and supposedly a corruption of flanker, literally a sidesman or an attendant at your flank. Is this a Scottish a misheard as an English ʌ?
Flummery, on the other hand, is one of the very few English words of Welsh origin. Although nowadays it usually means ‘empty compliments, humbug’, it was (and perhaps for some still is) a kind of pudding / dessert / sweet dish, in Welsh llymru ˈɬəmrɨ, ˈɬəmri. For this semantic development, we can compare waffle. There’s a recipe here. Welsh stressed ə is regularly mapped onto English ʌ and vice versa.
I haven’t been able to discover anything further about the origins of the Welsh word. I suppose it could be related somehow to llwm ‘bare, destitute’, though there can hardly be any connection with llymrïaid ‘sand-eels’.
So flummery is like Floyd or Fluellin. A Welsh voiceless alveolar lateral fricative is rendered into English as fl, as frequently happened up to the nineteenth century. We don’t do that nowadays: rather, we now tend to render ɬ as θl or, slightly more sophisticatedly, as xl.
As Jack Windsor Lewis insists, few non-Welsh speakers can get it correctly as ɬ. Present company excepted, of course.