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Why are flip-flops (bistable memory devices) called flip-flops?

The Wikipedia entry for flip-flop says that the terms "trigger circuits" and "multivibrators" were used in the past but not the justification for the term "flip-flop".

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I had always assumed that it was just because they flipped states. And flop may refer to the optional reset (causing the circuit to flop). But, looking into a bit more ...

From the online etymology dictionary:

"Flip-flop in the general sense of "complete reversal of direction" dates from 1900; it began to be used in electronics in the 1930s in reference to switching circuits that alternate between two states. As a verb by 1897. Flop (n.) in the sense "a turn-round, especially in politics" is from 1880."

A flip flop is generally used to hold a binary value. The "complete reversal of direction" is a good root (since a 0 vs 1 are opposites of one another).

Another illustrative general definition of flip flop: "To alternate back and forth between directly opposite opinions, ideas, or decisions." This lends itself to binary representation well.

So looks like the word existed before the electronic device.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Great reply. To put a finer point on it, the circuit toggles a bit, and the act of toggling back and forth from 2 states is called flip flopping. \$\endgroup\$ – portforwardpodcast Sep 26 '16 at 3:43
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As almost everything around us expressions can be found in history;

Once the expression starts to be known we start deviating from the origin and start to use the same in other but similar situations

Our friends at the English Oxford dictionary come up with a this information.

Origin: Mid 17th century (in the general sense something that flaps or flops): imitative reduplication of flop.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Which is why you are not supposed to wear them at work, I guess. \$\endgroup\$ – user56384 Sep 28 '17 at 19:48

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