Confused Words #8: Flout and Flaunt
The words flout and flaunt convey very different meanings, but they are often used as if they were interchangeable.
flout (verb): to mock, jeer, insult; to express contempt for, either in word or action. For example, a person flouts the law by refusing to obey it.
flaunt (verb): to display ostentatiously or obtrusively; to flourish, parade, show off. For example, a person flaunts his physical fitness by running up steps. A student flaunts a good report card by waving it in someone’s face.
Here are examples of flout and flaunt used correctly on the Web:
Ambassador Nominee States Intent to Flout Bahrain Law on Meeting Opposition
Do all celebrities behave as if they can flout all of the rules of common courtesy?
Nick Jonas Flaunts Abs & Muscles on New Magazine Cover
She is a very personable teacher; she really doesn’t flaunt her authority.
Here are examples of flout and flaunt used incorrectly:
Incorrect: If a student chooses to flaunt authority, he is open to discipline for his disruptions in the classroom.
Correct : If a student chooses to flout authority, he is open to discipline for his disruptions in the classroom.
The student is not showing his authority; he is defying the teacher’s authority.
Incorrect: Artists have more license to flaunt authority than do architects or scientists.
Correct : Artists have more license to flout authority than do architects or scientists.
Artists are freer to disregard rules than professionals whose work affects the safety of others.
Incorrect: No wonder he’s nicknamed himself “Money” and constantly flouts his wealth with pictures on Instagram.
Correct : No wonder he’s nicknamed himself “Money” and constantly flaunts his wealth with pictures on Instagram.
The person is showing off his wealth by posting pictures of it online. (One photo shows stacks of bank bills.)
Merriam-Webster adds to the confusion between flaunt and flout by giving this as one definition of flaunt: “to treat contemptuously.”
The M-W editors compound the confusion by adding a note in which they quote examples of the misuse of flaunt to mean flout in the writing of professional writers who should have known better.
Bottom line: If you’re showing something off, you’re flaunting it. If you’re disregarding a law, a rule, or a social convention, you’re flouting it.
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1 Response to “Confused Words #8: Flout and Flaunt”
“Merriam-Webster adds to the confusion.”
That statement, more and more, seems to stand on its own. But it’s worse than being spineless. MW has a pronounced tendency to encourage improper use. Here is their “commentary” following the unjustified flaunt: “to treat contemptuously.”
“Although transitive sense 2 of flaunt undoubtedly arose from confusion with flout, the contexts in which it appears cannot be called substandard…If you use it, however, you should be aware that many people will consider it a mistake.”
Very true. It will be considered a mistake by those who know that it is, in fact, substandard and a mistake and are evidently overqualified to work for MW. Then they still have to keep talking:
“Use of flout in the sense of flaunt 1 is found occasionally: ‘The proper pronunciation,’ the blonde said, flouting her refined upbringing, ‘is pree feeks.’ ”
Is found occasionally? This is their high bar? Is there any language catastrophe that is not “found occasionally”? TG for sites like DWT. I would never refer anyone again to MW as a source for anything but gibberish. They have earned that. I really, really hope they don’t start writing references for math, science, or engineering. I’d never cross a bridge again.