On beaches and at pools around the world, children and adults of all ages wear simple shoes that consist of a thin rubber sole with a y-shaped strap that goes across the top of the foot and between the first (“big”) and second toes. Yes, we’re talking about flip-flops!

All you need to do to figure out why we call them “flip-flops” is to walk around in a pair of them for just a little while. Because of how they’re made, the rubber soles slap against the bottom of your feet as you walk, making a flip-flop, flip-flop sound. The name “flip-flop” is thus an example of onomatopoeia.

Onomatopoeia means a word or a thing’s name comes from the sound that it makes. Other examples of onomatopoeia include moo, buzz, quack, zip and beep. Say each of these words. Can you hear how the word sounds like what it describes?

Not everyone around the world calls them “flip-flops,” though. In New Zealand, they’re called “jandals” (short for Japanese sandals).

They’re “thongs” in Australia and “plakkies” in South Africa. Even some areas of the United States have special names for them, such as “zories” on the East Coast, “clam diggers” in Texas and “slippers” in Hawaii.

Although the name “flip-flops” originated in America in the 1950s, flip-flops go way, way back in time. Experts believe flip-flops have been around for at least 6,000 years. Ancient Egyptian murals on tombs and temples show flip-flops were worn around 4,000 B.C.

In Japan, flip-flops are called zori. They are traditionally worn by Japanese children when learning to walk.

People believe flip-flops first appeared in America after World War II, when returning soldiers brought zori back from Japan as souvenirs. Flip-flops then became even more popular after soldiers returned from the Korean War in the 1950s.

Although flip-flops began as just a summer shoe popular with surfers and those spending time near the water, today they’re as common as tennis shoes and blue jeans. Modern stores carry a wide variety of styles, and flip-flops are as common at the mall as they are at the pool or the beach.

Although many people find flip-flops quite comfortable, foot doctors will warn you not to wear them too often or for extended periods of time. Flip-flops do not provide ankle support.

In addition, their overall lack of foot support has been linked to several different foot-related problems, such as overpronation and tendonitis.

 

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  1. Love it! That’s pretty much the only footwear that I’ve used while back on the islands. In the local slang – they’re called “slippahs”.

    Thanks Wonderopolis – for making summer FUN!

    • Thank YOU, Jon, for being such an AWESOME Wonder Friend and for leaving us a comment today! We hope you are having the most WONDERful summer ever on the islands! Thanks for giving us another word for flip-flops, too! :-)

  2. I just had time today to watch this wonder-what a perfect choice for summer. I agree with Abby and Jon-you both are really smart. Once the cold OH weather changes, and I get my toenails painted it is flop flop season for me until the snow flies.

  3. The book “Born to Run” and the theory of barefoot running goes totally against this notion of not wearing flip-flops more often, hence the surge of the full range of motion shoes with little to no ankle support.

    Congrats on the article, very interesting info on the history of the “flip-flop”.

  4. I love flip-flops!! I wear them every day during the summer. In school, we learned a lot about onomatopoeia and thought that flip-flops might be one. Now I know! This was a great wonder today, Wonderopolis!

    • We LOVE wearing our flip-flops around Wonderopolis in the summertime, too, Emmalee! Thanks for letting us know you learned something new from visiting this Wonder! :-)

  5. Wow! I remember learning about onomatopoeia in fifth grade, because in my accelerated math class, my teacher had it on a cabinet. Also that year, my science teacher talked about onomatopoeia a lot, and we could never figure out what it meant! I can’t believe I didn’t realize why flip-flops were called ‘flip-flops!’ It makes a lot of sense now. Thank you, Wonderopolis.

    Sharkysharky!

    • We’re glad you got to learn more about onomatopoeia, Sharkysharky! Sometimes we forget we WONDERed about something in the past, and then something simple reminds us about it again! We think it’s cool that you remembered all the times you WONDERed about onomatopoeia in 5th grade! :-)

    • Thanks for letting us know you visited this Wonder of the Day®, becadecasitergirl! It was fun to learn all the different names for flip-flops! :-)

    • Your comment today made us super happy, Rebecca! We like to hear from our Wonder Friends, and we are really appreciative of all the amazing comments we receive. Thank you for yours! :-)

    • You’re right, Destiny! Flip-flops are a great example of onomatopoeia…words that come from the sound they make! Thanks so much for leaving us a comment today! :-)

    • We think flip-flops are WONDERful too, Karen! Thanks for letting us know you explored this Wonder by leaving us a GREAT comment! :-)

  6. Hey wonderopolis! In this wonder, I learned two new vocabulary words, onomatopoeia and sole. I also learned flip-flops have been around for at least 6,000 years! I didn’t know flip-flops lack of foot support can cause foot problems. I have one question extending this wonder. Who invented the flip-flop? I really enjoyed this wonder!

    • We’re really glad you enjoyed this Wonder of the Day®, Team Unger 8! All the awesome things you learned about flip-flops are SUPER interesting! We’re not sure who invented flip-flops, but we know the Egyptians must have worn them way back in ancient times! Thanks for stopping by this Wonder today! :-)

  7. My Aunt Crystal once had flip-flops on and she hit her toe one of the corners of the doors. :-(

    I still like flip-flops. Do you like flip-flops? :D

  8. Flip flops make a lot of noise sometimes and the noise sounds like flip and then flop. I think that is how they got their name!!

    • You’re on the right track, Grace! Great job connecting the dots and flip-flopping with us as we Wonder about those comfy sandals we love to wear! We LOVE your comments and WONDERing together! :)

    • We agree with you, Savannah R! Flip-flops keep our feet nice and cool during the summer, and they’re easy to slip on and off! Thanks for flip-flopping with us as we Wonder today! :)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • Why are they called “flip-flops”?
  • How old are flip-flops?
  • Does everyone around the world call them “flip-flops”?

Wonder Gallery

flip flops in sand_shutterstock_59813551Vimeo Video

Try It Out

Do you own flip-flops? If not, you can usually buy a pair at a local store fairly cheap. You can also often find plain flip-flops at craft stores.

Why would you want a pair of plain flip-flops? Because they can be very fun to decorate!

Here are some resources you can check out that will show you how to turn your flip-flops into your own personal art show for your feet!

 

Still Wondering

Check out Illuminations’ If the Shoe Fits… lesson to learn how to use classification skills to compare and contrast versions of the Cinderella story.

 

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