Q&A: Flaunt vs flout

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!

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