There are several words and expressions used in the Royal Navy which are well known to all, i,e,. common knowledge, and yet the same expression [but with a separate and new meaning] is not common knowledge to all.  A typical one is the hyphenated "FLIP-FLOP", which comes as a noun and a verb [adverb].  It relates to a certain kind of footwear [common knowledge] and to an electronic device found in many of the electronic pieces of kit on board our ships [specialised technical knowledge].  Flip-Flop also has several everyday civilian usages, not unknown to royal sailors, but they are of no consequence in this little story.

Who coined the expression and its associated words/expressions {flip-flopping for example} is not known, but it can easily be analysed.

The last part, FLOP, is the easiest to analyse.  Flop has a few different meanings, but I am going to choose the meaning 'a failure'.

The word FLIP, also with several meanings [for my reasons {i} turning something or somebody over and {ii} go mad] also has a history in etymology, when in Victoria times, words like "flippery" were used. The text below comes from a book written by a lady born in Bury St Edmunds [that is why I am reading it]. It is called 'Held in Bondage or Granville de Vigne' and the lady author calls herself OUIDA - written in 1863.  


The connotation of her word 'flippery' suggests something undesirable and repugnant.  The word is rare today, and in its place came the words 'flippant/flippancy', meaning, amongst other things, disrespectful'. So, inter alia, 'flip' branched out to become 'flippant'.

A French translation for 'Flippery/Flippancy' for ones actions whether writing or in ones mannerisms,  is et voila tout, meaning 'and veils everything'. Back in our language, the collective Flip-Flop could therefore mean beware of the very name Flip-Flop for one so named is a failure in all he/she does, and moreover, endeavours to pull the wool over ones eyes {veils everything} to mask his/her actions, his/her mad actions at that, of trying to destroy something/somebody by 'turning it over' without a care or an ounce of respect.

So the moral of this story is that in normal times Flip-Flop is entirely innocuous, but I wouldn't advise you to use it as a nick name or a pseudonym, and, if you know anyone who does use it as such, beware and have nothing to do with the person.  Fortunately I don't, but forewarned is forearmed. I use the OED [full version] so if you want to check on my words, grab yourself a copy or visit your local library.

July 2009