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fly-by-night

[flahy-bahy-nahyt]
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adjective
  1. not reliable or responsible, especially in business; untrustworthy: a fly-by-night operation.
  2. not lasting; brief; impermanent; transitory: a fly-by-night theater.
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noun Also fly-by-night·er.
  1. a person or thing that is unreliable, especially a debtor who evades or attempts to evade creditors.
  2. a person regarded as a poor credit risk.
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Origin of fly-by-night

First recorded in 1790–1800
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for fly-by-night

Contemporary Examples

Historical Examples

  • She certainly has acted like a fly-by-night up to this time.

  • He'll be out with a fly-by-night troupe afore the next month.

  • Shown up in our newspapers as a ditch-digger—a fly-by-night—a nobody!

    The Landloper

    Holman Day

  • Had the wind been directly astern, the course of the Fly-by-Night would have been smoother.

    Janice Day

    Helen Beecher Long

  • Torched on by that fly-by-night who'll be getting out of town and who'll be forgotten inside a week.


British Dictionary definitions for fly-by-night

fly-by-night

adjective
  1. unreliable or untrustworthy, esp in finance
  2. brief; impermanent
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noun Also: fly-by-nighter
  1. an untrustworthy person, esp one who departs secretly or by night to avoid paying debts
  2. a person who goes out at night to places of entertainment
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Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for fly-by-night

n.

1796, slang, said to be an old term of reproach to a woman signifying that she was a witch; extended 1823 to "anyone who departs hastily from a recent activity," especially while owing money. The two senses involve the two verbs fly.

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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

fly-by-night in Culture

fly-by-night

Shady or untrustworthy: “Before buying stock in a newly formed company, the prudent investor will check its owners' credentials to make sure it's not a fly-by-night operation.”

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The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.