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flaunt or flout?

May 29, 2018

The confusion between flaunt and flout is one that pedants love to pounce on. Well, I am a pedant, so I’m going to go right ahead and pounce on it. In an essay about screen adaptations of children’s literature (it is one of the set readings on a course I teach for the Open University), the critic Deborah Cartmell has this to say: “In most Disney films, fidelity to the text is openly flaunted”.

Flaunt means to brazenly display. When I first read this, I assumed she meant that Disney made a really big deal about showing off how faithful to the original text they were. Then I remembered what Disney films are like and realised that couldn’t possibly be right. What Cartmell meant was flout: Disney films flout fidelity to the text, that is they brazenly defy or disregard it. So Cartmell has managed to say the exact opposite of what she intended to say.

And what is Deborah Cartmell’s job?

She is a Professor of English.

From → Uncategorized

7 Comments
  1. Simon Carter permalink

    Suspect this is another example of The Curse of Spellchecker!
    In the distant handwritten past I had a complete mental block on the difference between stationery and stationary until I was told “e for envelope” which solved the problem without having to use a dictionary every single time. At least mine were near homophones.

  2. Mark Brafield permalink

    I was once told – although I do not know if this is true – that ‘stationery’ came to be so named because the sellers of paper and pens were the first to set up their stalls in one location (traditionally, apparently, by St Paul’s Cathedral) as compared to other tradesmen who would walk around selling their wares. Thus, the sellers of paper and pens were stationary, and their products became ‘stationery’.

  3. Simon Carter permalink

    That does make sense – books,etc are heavy to carry and presumably literacy rates and demand were lower so it was easier to let the customers come than actively looking for them.

  4. Mark Brafield permalink

    Yes, that does make sense. And thinking about this thread overnight, I remember an old episode of Inspector Morse (I can’t remember which one) in which – hoary old chestnut – the character of Morse confuses ‘appraise’ with ‘apprise’. He turns to Lewis (in the front quad of Exeter, I seem to remember) and tells him to go back to the police station, study the file of the murder and ‘appraise himself’ of all the details. Of course, he could have meant that Lewis should study the file, then take a step back and judge himself on how well he has understood and recalled all of the details (appraise himself) rather than just inform himself of the details (apprise himself). But I think not. What annoyed me about this is that Morse himself would never, ever, have made such a mistake and one would have hoped that the scriptwriters would have been sufficiently in sympathy with Morse’s personality that they would have avoided the trap as well.

  5. Simon Carter permalink

    Indeed. A cruciverbalist of Morse’s (and Colin Dexter’s) expertise would have been mortified.
    At one time I worked for an exam board who supplied past papers for reference and revision. The percentage of letters requesting “passed” papers was incredible.

  6. auke permalink

    Hi, in the selfmade English dictionary I’m maintaining (I’m Dutch), I have two Larry David-related notes to help me keep flaunt and flout apart. Maybe it’s fun to share them. Flaunt – in Curb your enthusiasm, when Larry tries to persuade a portly female assistant to tone down her showing off an inordinate amount of bare midriff, he says: “Why not take a break in the flaunt?” (He’s not succesful, of course). Flout – in the Seinfeld-episode ‘The caddy’, wealthy Sue Ellen Mischke likes to wear just a bra: “the bra-less O’Henry heiress flouts society.”
    And then under the entry ‘semantics’, I quoted you from your earlier post on this subject: Brandon Robshaw: “I suppose it’s an understandable confusion, because the two words do sound similar, and there’s a slight semantic connection in that they do both have something to do with scorn or lack of respect for others.” (as illustrated in my examples!)

  7. Simon Carter permalink

    Auke, as per your earlier posts and without meaning to be patronising, congratulations on your English. As most British people can barely order beer in other languages it’s incredible to me that anyone can learn English so well. At Amsterdam Central I once heard a staff member switch between English, French and Italian to deal with successive enquiries – anyone with any experience of the London underground would be stunned at this facility. Or indeed the fact that he was there in the first place. Good luck with your dictionary.

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