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Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: Flaunt v. Flout

Everyday I receive an email from Oxford containing a grammar tip. Now to be honest, I skim these emails (flouting them), but yesterday’s tip was worth flaunting. I especially love it when the New York Times messes up. It makes me feel better about all the grammatical mistakes that make it onto this blog.

Confusion about these terms is so distressingly common that some dictionaries have thrown in the towel and now treat “flaunt” (= to show off or parade [something] in an ostentatious manner) as a synonym of “flout” (= to contravene or disregard; to treat with contempt). “Flaunt” is often incorrectly used for “flout,” perhaps because it is misunderstood as a telescoped version of “flout” and “taunt” — e.g.: “The White House issued a statement that deplored the Nigerian Government’s ‘flaunting [read ‘flouting’] of even the most basic international norms and universal standards of human rights.’” Howard W. French, “Nigeria Executes Critic of Regime; Nations Protest,” N.Y. Times, 11 Nov. 1995, at A1.

Of course, “flaunt” is more often used correctly — e.g.: “He donates millions to religious and charitable groups, yet flaunts his own wealth.” Marc Gunther, “Will Uncle Bud Sell Hollywood?” Fortune, 18 Aug. 1997, at 185.

“Flout,” meanwhile, almost never causes a problem. Here it’s correctly used: “A record rider turnout, fueled by the mayor’s earlier pledge to end the escort and crack down on cyclists flouting traffic laws, poured into the streets on an improvised route.” Chuck Finnie & Rachel Gordon, “Critical Mass Reaches Another Fork in the Road,” S.F. Examiner, 3 Aug. 1997, at B1. But the rare mistake of misusing “flout” for “flaunt” does sometimes occur — e.g.: “Mr. Talton was soon joined by almost two dozen other conservative Republicans who filed en masse into the clerk’s office to flout [read ‘flaunt’] their disapproval for their colleague and fellow party member.” Christy Hoppe, “GOP Shows Off Its Own Defection,” Dallas Morning News, 25 May 2000, at A33, A35. Looking for more information on Bryan Garner’s books? Check them out here.

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