Podcast flippant

Printable Version
Pronunciation: flip-ênt Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: 1. (Obsolete) Nimble, light and quick, especially nimble, light and quick with the tongue. 2. Glib, inappropriately superficial and light-hearted, superficially or humorously addressing a person or an issue that should be taken seriously.

Notes: Today's Good Word is rather ordinary except for its perfect synonymy with a part of itself, flip, which means the same thing as flippant (see Word History for the reason). The adverb is flippantly and the noun, flippancy. A glib response is also a response off the top of your head, possibly the result of superficiality but just as possibly from the speaker's thorough familiarity with the subject. Flippant implies an insulting inappropriateness, even incorrectness, that glib does not.

In Play: Flippancy is an insulting casualness applied to a matter others take seriously: "I'm not sure why Harry Dancer was even invited to our meetings; his flippant attitude only obfuscated matters." This word is most often used to describe unexpected responses: "When I asked her to marry me, I didn't expect such a flippant response as 'Sure, why not?'"

Word History: We are accustomed to clippings of words like professor, often clipped to prof, or representative, clipped to rep. So our first inclination would be to explain flip as a clipping of flippant. However, in this case, just the opposite seems to be true. The history of this word in the Oxford English Dictionary suggests that the suffix of the participle flipping might have been replaced by the French participle ending -ant to make the word sound more exotic, more like other French borrowings, such as rampant, vigilant, and variant. Why such a shallow word as flip needs dressing up is a good question.

Dr. Goodword,

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