Posted by: Jack Henry | June 18, 2020

Editor’s Corner: F Words

Good morning, folks. Today I’d like to talk about some “F” words. I recently read an article about people confusing flaunt and flout. That’s not something I’ve noticed, but okay, we’ll go over the difference between the two. Half joking to myself, I thought “Why didn’t they add the word flauta to the list?” Then I got serious and found out a few things about all of these words—and then some.

Okay, flaunt means to display something, usually to make others envious or sometimes to show defiance. For example, “Jim-Jam flaunted his earnings by driving fancy cars and never wearing the same shoes twice.”

Flout means to disregard something. Merriam-Webster defines flout as “to treat with contempt.” An example might be “Anna knew the rules of the town were to dress warmly and conservatively; she flouted their preferences by wearing only bikinis covered in rhinestones or sequins.” The word flout supposedly comes from the word flute.

A flauta, is a Mexican dish made of a rolled tortilla, filled with meat and cheese, and fried. Flauta is also the Spanish word for flute, which the food resembles.

After reading these definitions, I went back to the Grammar Girl article that started all of this. She didn’t mention flautas, but she did mention flutes and a new term. Let me continue dragging you down this crazy road with me. The following is from Grammar Girl’s article on flout and flaunt (with some edits for space):

The origin of ‘flaunt’

Nobody knows for sure where we got “flaunt”…and I’m always surprised when I come across an unknown origin. How could we just not know? People research this stuff.

There are theories, of course. The one I like is that it comes from a Swedish dialect word “flankt” that means “loosely fluttering.” I like the visual image of fluttering your accomplishments in front of people, but the Oxford English Dictionary says the timing of the word entering English makes that origin unlikely. We really just don’t know.

The origin of ‘flout’

“Flout” is even more fun and weird. Dictionaries say it’s related to the word “flute”—like the instrument, but nobody is really sure why that is either. What would disregarding laws have to do with playing the flute. I triple checked just to be sure I was reading everything right.

One theory is that the sound of playing the flute might sound a bit like jeering or derisive whistling. For example, the Oxford English Dictionary says that the Dutch word “fluiten” means both to play the flute and to mock or deride something or someone.

What is a ‘shame flute’ or ‘Schandeflote’?

Then I came across a tidbit on Wikipedia about bad musicians being forced to wear a “flute of shame,” and I thought someone was just making things up. I mean, really…the flute of shame?

But I found things about it in a bunch of books in Google Books too, and it’s often associated with Germany in the Middle Ages where it was called the “Schandflote.”

“A shame flute dangling from a German musician’s neck mocked his professional abilities.” Apparently, it wasn’t a real flute—it just looked like a flute—and it somehow locked the musician’s fingers in a forced playing position.

The first citation in the OED for “flout” meaning “to jeer or express contempt for something” is from 1551, and from what I can gather, the shame flute was used to mock musicians around the same time.

I’ve never seen anyone make the connection saying the shame flute is the reason the word “flout” comes from the word “flute,” but it seems like a good theory, or at least a fun theory, because we got to learn about the shame flute!

Quick and Dirty Tip

Getting back to the original question, you should still use “flaunt” to talk about showing off and “flout” to talk about disregarding rules, and neither of them are a good thing. Don’t be a flaunter, and don’t be a flouter.

Kara Church

Pronouns: she/her

Technical Editor, Advisory

619-542-6773 | Ext: 766773

Editing: Symitar Documentation Services

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