If you’ve got it, flout it

by Kieran Healy on March 16, 2006

From “BBC News”:http://news.bbc.co.uk/ just now:
I suppose it means the same thing, to all intensive porpoises.



Barry Freed 03.16.06 at 5:38 pm

That’s because the UN holds some very evil tenants.


winston 03.16.06 at 6:15 pm



c 03.16.06 at 6:37 pm

I love an ostentatious boycott.


Erik 03.16.06 at 6:40 pm

Well, it makes sense when you consider how UN embargoes have effected so many countries.


Aaron 03.16.06 at 7:23 pm

International politics is literally a doggie-dog world.


Tyrone Slothrop 03.16.06 at 8:43 pm


Ben Alpers 03.16.06 at 8:43 pm

It’s hilarious when people use a homonym as a pose to the correct word!


The Modesto Kid 03.16.06 at 8:47 pm

#6 — Ice creaming comes across the sky.


Kieran Healy 03.16.06 at 9:00 pm

It’s “porpoises” not “purposes,” Tyrone. Jeez.


phil 03.16.06 at 10:17 pm

When I asked the plumber to come and see to my flouting in the bathroom, he refused.


lalala 03.16.06 at 11:46 pm

They may all be funny, but flout-flaunt is the one I see most often in print. A lot in romance novels, where you have to imagine there have been editors involved. Sometimes I feel like in about 10 years nobody will remember the difference.


Zeno 03.16.06 at 11:50 pm

There is hope in the world. Yesterday I had lunch with the blogger of Log Base 2 and his young son and daughter. The boy discussed with me the difference between “less” and “fewer”, a distinction he appreciates. He doesn’t always get it right, but he’s trying!


joe o 03.17.06 at 12:19 am


dr ngo 03.17.06 at 2:03 am

Recently I spent three years editing a multi-authored college history textbook, and every draft went through at least five revisions. All 8 of us (professors past or present) read every chapter more than once; then a major university press read it, then sent it out to a specialist copy-editor; finally it was published (and is doing very well).

“Flaunt” for “flout” appears twice on the same page.



Chris Bertram 03.17.06 at 3:02 am

In my experience, these lapses at the BBC come in pigs and troughs.


bad Jim 03.17.06 at 3:22 am

To air is human, to forgive the vine.

(something about transporting gulls across a staid lion for immortal porpoises … a riff on the language of the Mann Act, I believe)

Freud noted a patient who said he’d encountered a relative “in flagrante” when he actually meant “en passant”. One might snort at the inept pretentiousness, but the mangled version is certainly more intriguing.


mc 03.17.06 at 5:08 am

re 11 and 13 – reminds me of an arch footnote by david wiggins, in which, after explaining a distinction rather nicer than those discussed here (‘such that’ vs ‘so that’, I think, but I cannot remember for sure), he says something like: ‘this is the kind of explanation which ten years ago one would not have had to offer, and ten years from now will be incomprehensible…’

A bit pompous, but the point hits home.
Still, the question I guess is: since there have always been people complaining about this sort of thing (eg 20-30 years ago it would have been Kingsley Amis writing to Larkin), should one really worry that it is getting worse? is there any evidence for that always tempting hypothesis?


Andrew Brown 03.17.06 at 6:41 am

#15 gives me the hope that some day on some day I can take a porn in flagrante.


chris y 03.17.06 at 9:30 am

mc @17:

I don’t think we should worry as long as there’s another good – not too long winded or obscure – way of expressing the idea that’s getting lost. In the original book of Common Prayer, the CoE prayed that the establishment should “truly and indifferently administer justice”. The loss of that meaning of “indifferent” was bearable, because the revised prayer book can use “Impartially”. Regretting the loss of early modern usage is a luxury like regretting the loss of Latin as the common language of scholarship.

If we lose the distinction of “so as/such as”, it becomes harder to express the idea signified by the one that’s lost. So the thought becomes more obscure, and that’s worth protesting.


Cryptic Ned 03.17.06 at 9:42 am

That’s a bonified good point, Chris Y.


eweininger 03.17.06 at 10:19 am

Ground control to Mao Tse Tung….


James Wimberley 03.17.06 at 11:00 am

Whenever I read of out=of-control cars careening along the street, I’m sorry for the pirates on board trying to scrape the barnacles off.


jen r 03.17.06 at 11:05 am

Oh, cut the BBC copyeditors some slack. I’m sure they’re overworked and underpaid, just trying to eek out a living as best they can.

(I thought about trying to work in a riff on the misuse of “begs the question”, but so few people get that right that I was afraid people would think I meant it unironically.)


Mo MacArbie 03.17.06 at 11:06 am

Sure, these distinctions will blur with time as language lives on. Ans even worse, soon dictionary spellings will include numerals.


Cryptic Ned 03.17.06 at 11:27 am

Sure, these distinctions will blur with time as language lives on.

For example, I have no idea what the mistake being pointed out in comment #22 is. Do pirates have something to do with using an equals sign instead of a hyphen?


mc 03.17.06 at 12:04 pm

chris y at 19 – i think that’s the right distinction to make, in considering which distinctions to defend. you also mention latin. for what it’s worth, i decided a while back to try to stop caring about spelling – on the basis that if fewer and fewer people are going to learn latin/greek/etymology etc., to insist that nevertheless they continue caring about spelling is getting close to rule-worship/snobbery/exclusivity/conformity for its own sake. i never quite succeeded in getting myself to stop caring, but i still think it is basically the right position – given how seldom spelling actually obscures meaning. and of course reading pre-19th century writers reminds you how little they cared about spelling conformity. and it didn’t hold them back much in making a contribution to scholarship/human knowledge etc.


chris 03.17.06 at 12:18 pm

mc: Yeah. I learned Latin and can spell. my baby sister didn’t and can’t spell her way out of a paper bag. She earns about twice what I do in the same industry. Yay spelling!


Tim 03.17.06 at 1:49 pm

Careening refers to the practice of grounding a ship on the falling tide to allow work on its hull. Mr Wimberly would doubtless prefer “careering” (galloping). I’m of the opinion that careening conveys the idea of slaloming more effectively than careering does, with the idea of leaning way over to one side. But I’m a native speaker of New Jerseyan, so I have some strange locutions. (Here’s a material-determinist idea: American cars careen more than European because of their soft suspension–I’m thinking fondly of my 1985 Mercury Marquis.)


garymar 03.17.06 at 4:07 pm

In the sixties I once read a column by an English-language ‘maven’ (was it Cleveland Amory?) who decried the hideous modern barbarism of militate against. Then I noticed this phrase in a Jane Austen novel, and concluded that columnists often don’t know what they’re talking about.


dust 03.18.06 at 11:04 pm

Language change…


transitive senses
1 : to display ostentatiously or impudently : PARADE
2 : to treat contemptuously

usage 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. Use of flout in the sense of flaunt 1 is found occasionally .


Mr Ripley 03.19.06 at 5:18 am

Ah, but garymar, now everyone says mitigate against. Which is only forgivable when there are militating circumstances.

As for Jane Austen, her use of a phrase certainly refutes the claim that it’s a “modern barbarism”; but I never quite understood the whole, “It must be legit because a great storyteller, or a character created by one, said it.” Using, say, Shakespeare as an arbiter of usage would just make things worser.

I tend to go in the opposite direction from Chris #19: rather than say, “Okay, we’re losing the distinctive meaning of ‘disinterested’ but now we have ‘unbiased’ as a tool to take its place,” I’d say, “Why do we need ‘disinterest’ to mean ‘indifference’ when we already have an elegant term for the condition in question?”


almostinfamous 03.20.06 at 1:21 am

this post has peaked my interest.


language hat 03.20.06 at 11:23 am

to insist that nevertheless they continue caring about spelling is getting close to rule-worship/snobbery/exclusivity/conformity for its own sake


I’d say, “Why do we need ‘disinterest’ to mean ‘indifference’ when we already have an elegant term for the condition in question?”

Who’s “we”? If you’re the only one left using it, exactly who are you impressing and/or enlightening? Would you prefer we still use bead in its original and hence “correct” sense of ‘prayer’? See above regarding rule-worship/snobbery/exclusivity/conformity for its own sake.


Cryptic Ned 03.20.06 at 1:19 pm

I don’t think that “indifference” is an obscure and archaic term used by word snobs. It’s reasonable to get annoyed when two words that used to mean different things come to mean the exact same thing, but it’s unavoidable.

But it works out; nowadays “disinterest” is a synonym for “indifference”, and what “disinterest” used to mean is now conveyed by the term “objectivity”.


garymar 03.21.06 at 7:53 am

Mr. Ripley,

I know this thread is already dead, and you’ll probably never see this, but my reply to your #31 post is as follows:

Shakespeare is the god of English, Austen one of his angels.

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