Fleshing Out and Flushing Out
Suzanne Baal notes:
[an] error that I’ve been hearing lately is “flesh it out” vs “flush it out”.
I couldn’t find any examples on the web of “flesh it out” being confused with “flush it out,” but I did find numerous comments made by people who say they’ve heard the error:
My last two bosses always talked of flushing out plans… I never took the opportunity to correct them (and neither did anyone else, apparently). It drives me nuts when people use phrases that they don’t understand!
…one of my lecturers often interchanges them [flesh out and flush out] though it’s obvious he’s meaning “flesh out.”
I hear this CONSTANTLY among my colleagues and can hardly sit still and not correct them. Flush, this flush that…they mean flesh!!!
In the discussions I browsed, many of the commentators seemed to associate only one meaning with flush, that of flushing a toilet.
Flesh Out vs. Flush Out–Either way it’s disgusting
Here’s the thing–flush it out only makes sense if your getting rid of something, and start all over.
First, let’s look at the expression “to flesh out.”
As a verb, flesh has several meanings, but in the figurative phrase “to flesh out,” it means to add details to something that exists only in a preliminary, incomplete form. The metaphor is that of a skeleton or framework being built up with flesh or clay.
To flesh out the complex arrangements, several studio musicians were brought in to read a heavily doctored score
I remember saying I would do some character designs and begin to perhaps flesh out some ideas in writing for the beginning of the new story arc.
O’Connor has fleshed out his sound to create something truly inspiring
The OED has ten entries for the word flush. Here I’m concerned with only two meanings of flush as a verb.
Flush, in the sense of moving water, comes from a Latin verb meaning “to flow.” We use it to mean “to cause water to flow,” as in flushing the toilet.
Let children flush the toilet …so they aren’t afraid of the noise.
Do not teach your cat to flush
Flush can also mean “to cleanse,” usually by a rush of water.
I was told that we need to flush out our coolant…
…products that remove ear wax may include a rubberized bulb for flushing out residue. …
This diet flushed out whatever was going on,
Another meaning of flush is “to cause to fly up” This flush is not connected with the Latin word for “to flow.” Its origin is uncertain. It could be a imitative of the sound of rustling wings. In pheasant hunting, the hiding birds are “flushed” by men called beaters.
Like me, you’ve probably seen movies with scenes set on English country estates where the local farmers form a line to flush the birds so that the gentry can shoot at them.
…they waited for an almost solid line of beaters to flush the game toward them. …
…most woodcock shooting in Ireland is of the walked-up variety where it is more likely that birds will be flushed in groups rather than individually.
The hunting term flush is often used figuratively:
Robbers Flushed Out After Gun Battle With Police
CIA chief hopeful of flushing out Osama
This headline plays on the meaning of both kinds of “flush”:
Cops Flush Out Suspect from Sewage Hideout
To sum up:
You flesh out a plan.
You flush toilets and flush out toxins.
You flush out game or people who are in hiding.
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