With Valentine’s Day upon us, I thought it would be fun to pick a “romantic” word to examine today…and flirt wins because it’s a rather hilarious evolution. Because it didn’t always mean what it does now!
In fact, flirt began life in English around 1550 as the very opposite of what we think of today. It means “to turn your nose up or sneer at someone.”
Not long after that, flirt and flick were used interchangeably…and then flirt and flit would be used interchangeably. This is a word that just didn’t know what it wanted to mean!
So how did it come to land on its current meaning? Etymologists have several theories. It could be because flit was used frequently to describe the actions of “giddy girls.” Or it could have been influenced by the French fleureter, which was “to speak sweet nonsense,” a word that was used to describe bees flitting from pretty flower to pretty flower and was borrowed to describe people who did the same, especially in conversation.
At any rate, our current meaning had evolved by the 1770s…and this flitting, flicking, flirting word finally settled on a meaning. And it hasn’t looked back since.