Have you ever repeated a word so many times that it becomes almost foreign sounding? I have. Just last week the word pleased threw me for a loop. I stared it down, trying to determine if it was spelled wrong or if I was actually using the wrong word. After obsessively repeating it within the title I was crafting, I finally had to walk away and trust it was an actual English word.
I have experienced a similar phenomenon with today’s word pair, flaunt and flout. Something about the sound of them make my brain get stuck on repeat until they turn to gibberish. Maybe’s featuring them in Which Word Wednesday will help? Let’s look at them from The Oxford American Dictionary:
flaunt :: verb
display (something) ostentatiously, esp. in order to provoke envy or admiration or to show defiance
flout :: verb
openly disregard (a rule, law, or convention)
Let’s look at the similarities first. Both are verbs. Both start with FL and end with a T. Both refer to an overt action, neither of which is very becoming.
Despite the similarities, these words are not synonyms. Dave Dowling explains it like this The Wrong Word Dictionary:
Flaunt mean to display boastfully or to show off something. They flaunt their wealth by driving expensive cars to school.
Flout means to ignore or show disrespect for rules. The haughty teens flout the most basic school rules.1
Two different meanings, for sure, but how can we assign the correct meaning to the word? Grammar Girl gives this memory hook: “Remember that you flout laws by linking the ‘out’ in ‘flout’ with the idea of being outside society.” I like that: flout puts you out.
What’s my WWW verdict? You can flaunt your language prowess by boastfully using these words correctly or you could flout the rules by using them interchangeably. (But please don’t.)
What’s your verdict? Do you know the difference between flaunt and flout? Do you ever stare at words until they turn to mush? Do share in the comments.
Check out previous Which Word Wednesday verdicts here.
1. Dave Dowling, The Wrong Word Dictionary (Oak Park, IL: Marion Street Press, 2005), 110.