French Word of the Day: Flipper

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French Word of the Day: Flipper
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

This French word does not have anything to do with marine mammals.


Why do I need to know flipper?

Because this anglicism is used a bit differently in French than it would be in English.

What does it mean?

Flipper - roughly pronounced flea-pay - is a colloquial French term and these days it means to be upset or overly anxious. People often use it similarly to the English expression ‘to freak out’.

As you may have expected, the term is an anglicism, and it comes from the English word ‘to flip’. 

However, in French it does not mean to literally flip something over - you would use renverser for that. It comes from a different usage of the word ‘flip’, more in line with ‘losing one’s head’.


The word started being popular in France in the 1970s, and at that time it was almost exclusively used to describe the experience of ‘freaking out’ or having a bad trip after taking LSD or other hallucinogenic drugs, according to Le Figaro.

Over time, it started to refer to the period of depression many people experience after feelings of euphoria when high, as well as the anxiety that one might feel due to withdrawal. 

Nowadays, people mainly use it to refer to any irrational response. You can also call something flippant (shocking).

A more formal synonym for flipper might be paniquer.

And if you find yourself in an arcade, you may hear the word a few times, as flipper is also the French term for a pinball machine.

Use it like this

Arrête de flipper, on va être à l'heure.  - Stop freaking out, we’re going to be on time.

Les résultats des élections m'ont vraiment fait flipper. Mes amis n'ont pas été surpris pour autant. - The results of the election really freaked me out. My friends weren't surprised though.

J'ai flippé en regardant le film d'horreur. - I freaked out when I was watching the horror movie.


Comments (2)

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JamesP 2024/06/13 20:47
It makes sense, at least in US English - to flip out - so this is a fun term to know :-) « Arrête de flipper ! »
Iain 2024/06/13 12:02
It's also the word used in France for a pinball machine: still popular in a certain kind of tabac-café frequented by a certain 'type' in biker jackets (though they have no bike) who nudge the machine with gentle pelvic thrusts and shout 'Merde!' when 'TILT' comes up. Immortalised in Patrice Leconte's 2002 film "L'Homme du Train" with Jean Rochefort and Johnny Hallyday (whose acting is rather better than you might expect).

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