with Luke Taylor
In digital circuits, a flip-flop is a kind of bistable multivibrator, an electronic circuit that is capable of serving as one bit of memory.A flip-flop is also a kind of bicycle wheel hub. It's a handspring in gymnastics. And of course it is used in the world of footwear: flip-flops are a type of sandal with a thin strip of material that passes between the big and second toes. That strip of material has become synecdoche for the sandals themselves, earning flip-flops their other name: thongs.
There was a flip-flop on recent legislation.The word flip-flop earned a great deal of attention in the US presidential election of 2004. But we found citations that show the term goes at least as far back as the 1988 campaign. And the idea of a flip-flop is not confined to American politics. Other English-speaking countries use flip-flop as well.
Opposition accused the candidate of flip-flopping.
Some said the candidate flip-flopped on key issues.
The candidate denied being a flip-flopper.
"It was 'wall-to-wall contrition over the great on-off autumn election fiasco', says the Daily Telegraph, pointing out that Prime Minister Gordon Brown's flip-flop gives the Tories time to develop voter-friendly policies that might establish them as a credible government in waiting."Here's a portion of a story from the CBC, dated May 18, 2001:
"The Liberals are accusing the provincial government of a flip-flop on public funding for private education. The announcement last week of a tax credit for private school tuition surprised many people."And here's an excerpt from the Sydney Morning Herald, dated November 8, 2007:
"Following Thursday's environment election debate, Climate Institute chief executive John Connor said the debate had provided little new material to the argument, saying he was disappointed there were no new policies, fireworks or flip-flops."The word flip-flop is clearly popular throughout the English-speaking world. Gordon Jarvie, author of the Bloomsbury Grammar Guide, has a good explanation of why that may be. Here's what he writes:
"Many of these reduplicative words involve an element of rhyme, which is what makes them memorable and ensures the contemporary colloquial popularity of this aspect of word formation. Nowadays we all seem to love a rhyme."In sum, a word like flip-flop is fun to say and it rhymes, so it's likely to be popular for a long time.
Music from this Episode: "Flip Flop and Fly" by Joe Turner.