Ever flipped your lid over a flippant comment or told your students that there's no place for flippancy in the classroom? Tim Bowen explains how the root of it all lies in talking nonsense.

The Macmillan English Dictionary for Advanced Learners defines flippant as ‘treating a serious subject or situation in a way that is not serious, especially when this annoys other people’. Examples of the use of flippant might be ‘His flippant remarks only made the judge angrier’, ‘Don’t be flippant. This is a very serious matter’, and ‘I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be flippant’. 

Flippant usually collocates with words like remark, comment and statement. Flippant and the related noun flippancy (as in ‘There is no place for flippancy in this courtroom’) are believed to derive from an old Germanic root meaning ‘to prattle’ or ‘to talk nonsense’, although some sources say it is probably related to the verb flip, meaning ‘to turn over quickly’ and also ‘to lose one’s temper’, as in ‘He flipped when he saw the bill’. Although the current meaning of the word differs from talking nonsense, it is possible to see the connection between talking nonsense and talking in a glib or non-serious way that is inappropriate to the situation.