Why do the British use the word "flipping" for emphasis?

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In the English (British) TV drama, Coronation Street, the word "flipping" is often used to stress a situation, so much so that it feels like a swear word to me to some degree:

  • I've got a flipping headache
  • That flipping moron

I think usually people from US like to use the word "freaking" or "fricking" instead.

I know "freak" is a very strong word, but can't understand why "flipping" can be too. Is it because the term "flipping someone off" (a term I just learned while searching for answer myself)? And I am still a bit confused why "flipping someone off" has the meaning of, you know, "flipping someone off".

xpt

Posted 2018-11-08T05:49:41.907

Reputation: 2 024

15I would not say 'freaking' is a strong word as a substitute for 'fucking' anymore than flipping, fricking etc. They're all just various 'polite' ways to add emphasis without using actual profanity. – Roy – 2018-11-08T11:58:03.067

3'Flipping' is not a strong word. I heard it all the time in polite situations, including school and even church, when growing up. My parents and my teachers used it constantly and would never dream of using the F-word. The very fact that you are hearing it on Coronation Street, an early-evening soap, is a good indication that it is not a strong word. – DJClayworth – 2018-11-08T14:28:45.297

Because we (in the person of the BSG reboot writing staff) beat them to the word "Frakking" ack, ninja'd – Carl Witthoft – 2018-11-08T15:29:07.067

To my ears, "freaking" is slightly stronger than "flipping" - perhaps because "flipping" is typically just used for emphasis and has no literal interpretation whereas "freaking" sometimes is used literally (see UrbanDictionary) and thus carries that weight. – BobtheMagicMoose – 2018-11-08T15:38:15.123

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@CarlWitthoft Actually, frack/frak was invented in the original BSG back in 1978.

– Basil Bourque – 2018-11-08T20:00:27.967

@BasilBourque Thanks - I couldn't stand the original. – Carl Witthoft – 2018-11-08T20:37:34.230

You ever tried to do a flip? It’s really hard! – Paul D. Waite – 2018-11-08T22:57:29.740

I'm not British, but I use it when I can't swear... – Operation420.net – 2018-11-10T00:48:22.100

Answers

59

Words such as fudging, freaking, fricking, and flipping are euphemisms for fucking. Here's an entry on "flip" (my emphasis):

flip (v.)
1590s "to fillip, to toss with the thumb," imitative, or perhaps a thinned form of flap, or else a contraction of fillip (q.v.), which also is held to be imitative. Meaning "toss as though with the thumb" is from 1610s. Meaning "to flip a coin" (to decide something) is by 1879. Sense of "get excited" is first recorded 1950; flip (one's) lid "lose one's head, go wild" is from 1949, American English; variant flip (one's) wig attested by 1952, but the image turns up earlier in popular record reviews ["Talking Boogie. Not quite as wig-flipping as reverse side--but a wig-flipper" Billboard, Sept. 17, 1949]. Related: Flipped. Flipping (adj.) as euphemism for fucking is British slang first recorded 1911 in D.H. Lawrence. Flip side (of a gramophone record) is by 1949.
(Etymonline)

It's not exclusive to BrE, as it's also heard in AmE. However, it might be less common.

They are used just like you said (for emphasis) and they're used when offensive language is not allowed or not called for. They seem like swear words because they are, just milder ones.

It has nothing to do with "flipping someone off."

As the the entry above suggests, "flipping someone off" likely comes in part from the fact that flip/flipping can be used to describe the movement of extending a finger in that manner.

Em.

Posted 2018-11-08T05:49:41.907

Reputation: 44 188

14And "flipping someone off" is (at least in my experience) not really heard in British English. – owjburnham – 2018-11-08T11:16:57.343

7I’ve definitely heard “flipping” used as expletive substitution in AmE plenty, though as another answer says, nearly anything that starts with an F can be used and understood in that context. – bogardpd – 2018-11-08T11:37:06.960

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@owjburnham Indeed - the hand gesture is typically different in the UK and some commonwealth countries also (two fingers - like a victory "V" but with the back of the hand rather than the palm towards the recipient.).

– J... – 2018-11-08T13:08:01.460

5Excellent answer. You may want to expand to mention that this particular type of euphemism is sometimes called a "minced oath". – TimothyAWiseman – 2018-11-08T19:59:17.950

1In my youth in the UK, I always interpreted "flipping" as an excited way to say "extremely". It was only a little bit naughty due to being vulgar/common language. I never literally associated it with "fucking". A slightly stronger and frequent usage was "flipping 'eck" (heck). – joeytwiddle – 2018-11-09T03:09:44.327

Its worth noting that Coronation Street is a program that airs in the UK before the watershed (9pm) where broadcasting swear words is forbidden. Thus in this context, it is being used because 'fucking' is not allowed. – Phil – 2018-11-09T09:14:18.810

3@J... That is an additional hand gesture and does not replace the middle finger, we use both. – Roy – 2018-11-09T09:43:44.853

4@Roy Are you under 30? It wasn't always so. The middle finger has become more popular with American programming coming to the UK over the past 30-40 years. It's certainly not the native salute and prior to that was much less common. Oscar Wilde even commented on this distinction between the US and UK a century ago. – J... – 2018-11-09T10:34:05.123

@J I am just on the cusp of being under 30 so TIL :) – Roy – 2018-11-09T10:43:53.637

48 here, and the middle-finger salute certainly existed when I was a child. The only reason the two-finger version was so prevalent in England is something called "Agincourt" ... – Will Crawford – 2018-11-11T19:45:15.987

Ah DH Lawrence...you learn something new every day. – Tom – 2019-07-18T21:09:39.337

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This is called a

Minced Oath
a euphemistic expression formed by misspelling, mispronouncing, or replacing a part of a profane, blasphemous, or taboo term to reduce the original term's objectionable characteristics. Some examples include "gosh" (for God), "darn" (for damn), "heck" (for hell), "fudge" or "eff" (for fuck) and "shoot" (for shit)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minced_oath

Kevin

Posted 2018-11-08T05:49:41.907

Reputation: 5 009

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As Father Jack would say: "What the feck is a minced oath" https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feck

– None – 2018-11-08T20:45:31.867

2I suspect that freaking/fricking/frigging was still not "minced" enough for some, hence flipping. – Gossar – 2018-11-09T09:48:10.167

@Gossar - I would say that frigging isn't minced at all as it means (female) masturbation. – Greenonline – 2018-11-10T15:56:32.730

@Greenonline Is that BrE slang? – Kevin – 2018-11-10T21:26:58.137

@Kevin - Possibly, I'm not sure, but one notable example would be the late '70s song Friggin' in the Riggin' by the Sex Pistols. – Greenonline – 2018-11-11T00:12:04.840

Agreed, @Greenonline. freaking = fricking = frigging, ∴ not actually minced – Gossar – 2018-11-12T04:41:45.520

In AmE, frigging is definitely minced for fucking – Kevin – 2018-11-12T04:44:59.607

16

All of the words you mention - "flipping", "fricking", "freaking", etc. -- are intended to be relatively polite substitutes for "fucking", which may not be appropriate in that context.

Because these are substitutes, it's permissible to use anything with a vaguely similar sound. For example, the science fiction TV show Battlestar Galactica used "frack/fracking", while the show Farscape used "frell/frelling".

I've also heard "farging", "fudge/fudging", "fornicating", "eff/effing", and occasionally "bleeping" (to indicate a word that has been censored), but there's no reason you can't be creative and use whatever sounds best to you:

I can't believe the fudrucking mechanic hasn't fixed my car yet.

Andrew

Posted 2018-11-08T05:49:41.907

Reputation: 85 521

2As another example, people will say Oh sugar! or Oh shoot! instead of Oh shit! In the UK you may also hear Oh fiddle! or Oh fiddlesticks! as an alternative to Oh fuck!, especially from older people. – Graham – 2018-11-08T08:22:41.480

5It's worth being clear here that this isn't just a thing thats on TV; people do actually use these terms frequently in real life day-to-day conversation. – Spudley – 2018-11-08T11:40:39.047

And, less common these days, any exclamation with an initial J (By Jove!, Jumping Jehosaphat!) is a substitution for Jesus. – WhatRoughBeast – 2018-11-08T15:29:17.277

@Spudley Of course, TV is just copying real life there. But it's probably more common on TV, because many broadcasters are under restrictions on language. – Barmar – 2018-11-08T20:33:06.193

@Graham there's one PG-rated kids' movie that used, "Oh, shi... take mushrooms" – Andrew – 2018-11-08T21:07:27.977

1The TV show "The Good Place" uses "forking", "shirt" and "ash", which are pretty funny when used in quick succession. – Eric Lippert – 2018-11-08T23:32:29.633

@graham it's sugar*lumps* :o) – Will Crawford – 2018-11-11T19:46:19.577

10

Questions like "why does X mean Y" are questions of etymology (also called "origin") and can be answered by consulting one or more dictionaries and studying the relevant analyses. For your first question:

I've got a flipping headache

If you consult Oxford Dictionary - flipping it says:

British

informal

[attributive] Used for emphasis or to express mild annoyance.

‘are you out of your flipping mind?’

You said in your question that this is an English TV drama. Dictionaries typically denote a primarily British or American usage as "British" or "UK" or "Briticism" for usages primarily used in Britain and "US" or "American" or "Americanism" for usages primarily used in the United States. Printed dictionaries also typically describe their formal notation for this in the first few pages.

So, why do English people say flipping? The etymology ("Origin") line of the same entry says:

Early 20th century: from flip + -ing.

The verb flip has several meanings, but the most likely entry of relevance is this:

[informal] [no object] Suddenly lose control or become very angry.

So, flipping is a word used to express annoyance or anger, which is consistent in how it is used in your examples. You also correctly noted that this is an English phrase, not commonly used in the U.S. This fact is also mentioned in dictionaries.

I know "freak" is a very strong word, but can't understand why "flipping" can be too. Is it because the term "flipping someone off" (a term I just learned while searching for answer myself)?

Freak is probably not related, but according to the above page on flip, the etymology is:

Mid 16th century (as a verb in the sense ‘make a flick with the finger and thumb’): probably a contraction of fillip.

So it's possible your analysis is correct. The American-focused dictionary Merriam-Webster has a separate entry for "flip off", separate from "flip":

Merriam-Webster - flip off

: to hold up the middle finger as an obscene gesture of contempt to

M-W mentions 1982 as the first recorded usage of "flip off" in the above sense. Oxford English Dictionary Online does not mention "flip off" explicitly in this sense as far as I could tell, so it is possibly an Americanism.

On Euphemisms, "F-bomb" and "the F word"

The word fuck has become a sort of universal swear word that can be used in a variety of purposes. But it is also very strong, and is even not allowed on some broadcasting networks, so sometimes people substitute a different word for this word. For this reason, one might think that "freaking", "fricking", "frigging", "fracking", "frelling", or other words beginning with F are euphemisms for "fucking." However, it is not always so clear. For example, fricking is noted by Merriam-Webster as an alteration of frigging, and frig is a verb dating from 1610 which means to copulate.

The words frell and frelling were invented for the American science fiction television series Farscape and were most likely used both as humorous euphemisms for "fuck" and "fucking", respectively, as well as a clever way to avoid saying "the F word" on the air, which is typically not allowed on American broadcast television. Fans of the show may occasionally use these words for humorous effect, but they haven't reached widespread use.

Widespread euphemisms for 'fuck' include the the phrase "F-bomb", often used with "drop" ('He dropped an F-bomb during the interview.' = He said 'fuck' or 'fucking' during the interview.) the phrase "F word", which is a catch all euphemism for a word beginning with F, almost always 'fuck', 'fucking', 'fucker', etc., and simply "F", "F-ing" or "eff" or "effing".

However, since 'fuck' can be used in so many situations, I would hesitate to too quickly conclude that a particular word beginning with F is always a euphemism for "fuck" or "fucking". Supposing that a particular word or phrase has a particular origin without researching its origin is known as folk etymology.

Brandin

Posted 2018-11-08T05:49:41.907

Reputation: 544

1

The thing is, while oxforddictionaries.com has the definition and etymology you quote above, its more in-depth cousin OED (£) specifically defines it as "Used as a substitute for a strong expletive. " - although admittedly offering nothing more on the etymology - and adds ' (Cf. blinking adj. 4.)", where blinking is surely from bleeding, euph for bloody, with no suggestion of any derivation from blink

– AakashM – 2018-11-08T10:30:42.213

"frig is a verb dating from 1610 which means to copulate." In Michener's "Hawaii", a researcher produces a paper dealing with a voyage of a bunch of missionaries to Hawaii in the 1800's. Based on the birth rate among the missionaries in the months after arrival, the paper was informally called "There Was Frigging in the Rigging." – WhatRoughBeast – 2018-11-08T15:32:30.337

I wonder whether because frig is vulgar in its own right, freaking (by sounding too close to frigging) might not have been euphemistic enough for BrE at the time. But since frig is uncommon in AmE, its speakers didn't care as much.

– Gossar – 2018-11-09T09:38:40.773

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It's the bowdlerized form of the f-word.

bowd·ler·ize
/ˈbōdləˌrīz,ˈboudləˌrīz/

(verb) remove material that is considered improper or offensive from (a text or account), especially with the result that it becomes weaker or less effective.

Cloud

Posted 2018-11-08T05:49:41.907

Reputation: 151

@MichaelHarvey Reals cops swear a lot.. Citation, please. :D – Cloud – 2018-11-12T23:55:02.857