Fifty-two years ago the word flop was on the lips of sports enthusiasts all over the world. Olympian athlete, Dick Fosbury made history (& a big splash) in the 1968 Olympics by earning the gold medal with his unconventional high jump method, known ever since as the Fosbury Flop.
Flop’s earliest appearance in English occurred centuries before Dick Fosbury, about the year 1600. It meant to flap, & appears to have been derived from the word flap, which came to English two hundred years earlier.
In 1823 flop established itself as a noun, so that when something flopped, the noise involved could be labeled a flop.
The meaning to fall or drop heavily was added to flop’s arsenal of meaning in 1836.
By 1893 flop picked up the meaning a failure.
In 1858, flop’s adjective cousin, floppy was born.
By 1836 flop gave birth to the more jocular term, flopperoo.
Another meaning, complete failure, came about in 1893.
In 1900 the term flip-flop showed up, meaning a complete change in direction.
In 1902, Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Peter Rabbit was published, featuring the risk-taking antics of Peter & the rule-following ways of his good little siblings, Cottontail, Mopsy and Flopsy.
The word flub, derived from flop, joined us in 1920, meaning a botch or bungle.
The sound of plastic sandals was responsible for the 1970s term, flip-flop. Interestingly, the term flip-flap had been used to echo that same sound since 1520.
This week, when you need to stop reading the news for the sake of your mental health, ponder & appreciate the word flop. Consider doing so in any of these ways:
-take a stroll in plastic sandals
-watch a truly bad movie
-change your opinion
-at the end of a long day, fall or drop heavily into bed
-or leave a comment right here about all this floppishness
Big thanks to this week’s sources: Merriam Webster, Wordnik, Etymonline, Physical Guru, & the OED.
I write for teens, narrate audio books, bake bread, play music, and ponder the wonder of words in a foggy little town on California's central coast.