Column: ‘Flout’ or ‘flaunt?’


Here’s a question for you: When you’re late to work, and you’re flying down the road 15 miles an hour over the speed limit, are you “flouting” the law, or “flaunting” it?

The issue at hand is a case of mistaken identity. “Flout” and “flaunt” have different meanings, but similar connotations. Over the years that has lead to some confusion.

The band geeks out there are probably already aware that “flout” comes from the Middle English word flouten, meaning to play the flute (you knew that, right?). It means “to break or ignore (a law, rule, etc.) without hiding what you are doing or showing fear or shame,” and originated from flute players’ tendencies toward reckless, barefaced criminality.

(Some of that might not be historically accurate.)

“Flaunt,” on the other hand, means “to show something in a very open way so that other people will notice.” You see where the confusion could arise, yes?

“Flaunt” is sometimes used to mean “to treat contemptuously,” but it’s a non-standard usage. And, frankly, it’s wrong.

This is one we can keep simple, thankfully: “Flaunt” means to display ostentatiously, and “flout” means to openly disregard the rules. Peacocks flaunt, while jail birds flout. We’ll leave what flutists do for another day.

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