Each week here at the Australian Writers’ Centre, we dissect and discuss, contort and retort, ask and gasp at the English language and all its rules, regulations and ridiculousness. It’s a celebration of language, masquerading as a passive-aggressive whinge about words and weirdness. This week we are proudly flaunting it!
Q: I have a question.
A: You’ve come to the right place. We have the answers.
Q: What’s the difference between “flaunt” and “flout”? Are they similar at all?
A: They are NOT similar – but many people get them confused.
Q: Do either of them have anything to do with playing the flute?
A: Well it depends on the context – if you were jumping about drawing attention to yourself as you played the flute, someone might call you a flaunting flautist.
Q: That’s cute. But why aren’t flute players called “flutists”?
A: Actually, we used to call them flutists, but then in the 19th century, Britain got cosy with the Italian “flautista” and switched to “flautists”. Americans stuck with “flutists” though – and still use that today.
Q: And from your definition, to “flaunt” is to draw attention to yourself?
A: Yes. Macquarie Dictionary defines it as a verb meaning “to parade or display oneself conspicuously or boldly” as well as “to wave conspicuously in the air”.
Q: If you’ve got it, flaunt it.
A: Precisely. It should be noted that even Macquarie warns that “flaunt” is commonly confused with “flout”.
Q: Right, so let’s move to “flout” then – clearly meaning something different.
A: Yes, this one is also a verb, but this time means “to mock; scoff at; treat with disdain or contempt” – most commonly associated with “to flout the rules”.
Q: What’s its origin?
A: “Flout” actually comes from an archaic variation of “flute” – “fluiten” to be exact, as in the whistling sound that you would hiss to show derision.
Q: So if you told someone who was flouting to “pipe down”, that would be rather appropriate!
A: Exactly. Today’s usage is less about mocking and more about open disregard for rules.
Q: So why do so many people get “flaunt” and “flout” confused?
A: It’s likely to be as simple as each having a similar form (starts with “FL”, ends with “T”), both being one-syllable verbs and also not all that commonly used. Intriguingly, both turned up in English around the 1560s, so their parallel timelines probably didn’t help either.
Q: It sounds similar to when I recently met two new friends at the same time, both called Sam. It was so hard to remember which one was which until I came up with a cool trick.
A: Oh, what was that?
Q: I called the boy Samuel and the girl Samantha…
A: Um, okay.
Q: So do you have any clever trick for remembering these ones?
A: Well you could imagine your AUNT jumping about trying to get your attention – as in “flAUNT”.
Q: Oh, you’re clearly talking about Aunt Helen. She’s such a drama queen.
A: Right. And then imagine saying “OUT!” to the rules that you wish to “flOUT”.
Q: Nice. We’d say we’re now quite fluent in flaunt and afloat on the subject of flout. Time to take flight!
If you have a grammar gripe or punctuation puzzle that you’d like our Q&A to explore, email it to us today!