• flirt •
Pronunciation: flêrt • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Verb
Meaning: 1. Try to attract the attention of a person of the opposite sex using body language and innuendo without serious romantic intentions. 2. Experiment superficially with an idea without committing oneself seriously. 3. Move quickly and flittingly, flutter or gambol.
Notes: Someone who habitually flirts is a flirt, the personal noun. The abstract noun is flirtation which implies a verb flirtate. We also have an adjective, flirtatious, implying the same verb, which doesn't seem to exist.
In Play: The literal sense of today's word is usually associated with women: "Marian Kine flirted with Phil Anders until he made a serious pass at her." The figurative sense prefers neither gender: "Rodney flirted with the idea of creating an electric fork to go along with the electric knife, but he never pursued it."
Word History: The original sense of this word was to move about quickly while ruffling feathers, referring to male birds at mating season trying to attract a mate. When it was transferred to people, who have no feathers to ruffle, it referred to other motions that women of the day make to attract men: batting the eyes, pretending shyness in obvious ways, and so on. Applied to men, it generally refers to playfully suggestive conversation. It is most probably a blend of flick with spurt, for it has no PIE history. French flirter and Italian flirtare are borrowings from English. (Jackie Strauss does not flirt with words, she has been serious with her many, many Good Word contributions like today's over the past decade.)