David from Traverse City
asked about the word flap, used to mean an agitated situation. It’s a favorite
of headline writers, as a few random examples will illustrate.
- NPR: “Decades Of History Behind IRS Flap”
- Honolulu Star Advertiser: “Osaka mayor: Lack of sensitivity
- CBS Eye On Sports: “Fuzzy Zoeller: Flap over Sergio Garcia
comment will 'blow over.'”
- The Times of London: “RBS customers in a flap over bank’s
- The Australian: “In a flap over the Great Subsidy”
“A Flap Over 'The Lion Sleeps Tonight'”
- ABC News: Mexico Fires Official in Flap Over
- TimesLive: “Russia in flap over song contest
- The Washington Times: “A month after U.S.-Russia flap over
Boston Marathon bombing, American ‘spy’ detained in Moscow”
Originally (14th c.), it
meant a slap—probably in imitation of the sound of hand against cheek. Around
the same time, it meant a contemptuous rebuke. By the 18th century,
it meant the noise produced by motion. A century later, it referred to a
disturbance or tumult. So there’s a fairly clear thread that involves sound,
motion, disturbance, and agitation or conflict.
Like many words, it also
acquired accretions over the centuries—other applications of the spelling. The
idea of a projecting part was applied to zipper or button coverings on
clothing, the part of a book jacket that folds under the book’s cover, human
tissue used in surgical grafting, and the part of an envelope or a box or a tent
used to close it.
Airplane wings have
moveable surfaces called flaps, and in phonetics, a flap is a consonant sound
produced by a single quick flip of the tongue against the upper part of the
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