Recently researchers concluded that flip-flops are not only bad for your feet, but can be physically dangerous. Even more, however, they are confusing to our youth.
I have never liked flip-flops. They cause blisters between your toes, and science has now shown that people can stumble and fall more easily in flip-flops.
This brings us to the confusing name for these sandals.
On the elementary school alphabet charts, there is a picture of flip-flops under the letter “T.” You can understand that “G” is for goat and “B” is for boat, but “T” is for flip-flop?
Well, the authors of the wall chart had in mind that the name of this footwear is “thongs.” This, however, brings laughter even from second-graders. They think of a racy kind of underwear when they hear that word.
No teacher wants a student going home to report that she was talking about skimpy underpants — well not exactly pants, but you get the idea.
Flip flops are just one symbol of how words change.
A friend said that in his teens his mother sent him to his room for saying that a young woman was “tough.” He meant she was good-looking. His mother interpreted his comment as a derogatory one. In her day, “tough” meant “morally loose.”
When we wanted to describe a girl as pretty, we would describe her temperature. Pretty girls were both “hot” and “cool.” Both words meant the same thing. When I was in school, those same words also could mean she was “morally loose,” but that’s another column.
Take another word, “gay,” as an example.
Gay once meant that you were happy and carefree. It still can mean that, but it means more than that today. While it is an adjective usually denoting homosexual males, it is confusing when coupled with “apparel” in a Christmas carol.
It can also be a noun.
As one who made his living with words, it was clear that I had better know the current meaning of my stock-in-trade.
Many words have both a good and a pejorative meaning. Examples being: crabs, goose and hound. These are just three from the animal kingdom.
It will be interesting how many of our words will be redefined in the years ahead, just as they have changed from the times of Shakespeare and Chaucer.
Meanings have flip flopped.
• Mike McLellan can be contacted by calling and leaving a message at 830-4231 or e-mailing him at DrMikeM@sbcglobal.net.