flaunt and flout

fluting insolent.jpeg

The Fin Review goes for a much more traditional style error than some of the online news I have been reading. Take their recent confusion of flaunt and flout. The story was that the Commonwealth Bank had ‘flaunted the country’s money-laundering and counter-terrorism laws’.

Etymology is not exactly helpful to us here, because no one knows where the word flaunt comes from.  Similar words with an –aunt ending are from French, but the French language has been ransacked and revealed nothing that could be the original word which the English borrowed. It is a relative latecomer in English, the first citation being dated 1567, in the sense of plants waving their flowers or fruit around. Flags also flaunt. There is a quick transfer to people who parade their finery, and from there to those who make a conspicuous show of abstract things such as wealth, power, etc.

There is a similar lack of clear origin for the word flout, which also appeared in the 16th century.  The suggestion is that flout is a variant of flute meaning ‘to play the flute’. The idea is that the flute-playing is done in a spirit of contempt. While you attempt to talk seriously to me, I play the flute. There is, it seems, a similar sense development in Dutch where you move from simple flute-playing to jeering and displaying contempt.  But this is all speculation.

From flouting (fluting) a person we move to flouting laws and regulations.

This means we have two words which are sufficiently similar to allow for eggcorning, a verb that I just invented from the word eggcorn.  See eggcorn. Neither of them has high frequency and we have no clear grasp of their word history.

It is not surprising that we confuse the two. But we mustn’t.


Sue ButlerComment