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very trivial question here, part a
Posted: 21 March 2011 09:28 PM   [ Ignore ]
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I’ve just joined now, having read one of your previous discussion threads and thinking you all extremely clever and decent.  I’m not particularly well-educated-- though I have been known to fake it for a pittance-- and I’ve spent most of my adulthood beyond the reaches of the English language. Additionally, my native part of the globe is not known for its native wit (or for anything at all, really). To varying degrees of success English is the main language used in most parts of this country.  Matters are further complicated by the abundance of people here who, like me, assume that because English is their first (or even only) language, they’re somehow good at it. (Or is it ‘with’ it?  See? There. I’ve really not a clue).
Right. The question: 
Yesterday I was in conversation with someone (also a native English speaker, though not of this country) who insisted, apropos of nothing whatsoever, that the words ‘flout’ and ‘flaunt’ can be used interchangeably but that for all intents and purposes ‘flout’ is now an archaic word. Is either part of that assertion correct?  I understand how one could flout and flaunt concurrently or be perceived to do so sequentially, but for some reason those two words are very distinct in my otherwise foggy brain, and I would not be inclined to confuse them, much less swap one for the other. The person who made this assertion was much younger, much more male, and in his home country he is Constitutionally permitted to bear arms.  For those reasons I did not bother to argue so I left the encounter wondering if the difference between these two words was primarily a perceptual one on my part. If not, is it possible that over the course of about 20 years the word ‘flout’ has ceased to be part of the English language?  Or could this be a regional phenomenon peculiar to his home country?

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Posted: 22 March 2011 02:20 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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I’m talking about American English here, I don’t know if this holds for other dialects of World English.

The use of flaunt for flout is not new, and while it started out as an ignorant error of confusion between the two words, it is no longer simply an error. For many, flaunt has taken on the sense of flout. The OED has a separate definition for it—added as part of the Additions Series in the 1990s—but in which the definition is marked as “widely considered erroneous.”

Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage traces the confusion back to 1918, and the first objection to the use of flaunt for flout appears in 1932. Still the error was rare until the 1940s, when it started growing more frequent. Now it is problematic to consider it an “error” in the literal sense. Enough people believe that flaunt does indeed have a meaning of “to disdain, to express contempt for” that they are not “wrong.”

(Taking off my descriptive hat and donning my prescriptive one.) Yet discerning writers and editors do not use this meaning in formal writing. Most copy editors will spot this use of flaunt and change it to flout. Not only is a useful distinction to maintain, but failing to do so will get a raft of complaints from readers who still consider it “wrong.” You are right to maintain the distinction in your own usage. (Descriptive hat going back on.)

But your friend was also right, in a way. Flaunt is used to mean flout on a regular basis. But the opposite is not true. Flout is very seldom used for flaunt and such usage is descriptively an error. But flout has not “ceased to be part of the English language.” It’s alive and well and a perfectly good word. If you use it, you will be understood, and there is no stigma of elitism associated with it.

Welcome aboard. Your question is anything but trivial. And I’m curious, what country are you writing from?

they’re somehow good at it. (Or is it ‘with’ it?  See? There. I’ve really not a clue).

Preposition usage in any language is highly idiomatic and one of the most difficult things for non-native speakers to learn. You’re first instinct is correct, at would be the usual phrasing. But with is not an error. But because it is not the typical usage, it emphasizes the aspect of utility; they’re good using English as a tool to accomplish something and not simply using it.

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Posted: 22 March 2011 06:00 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Prescriptive, descriptive, schmiptive. Of course everybody is entitled to use the language as casually as they like; nevertheless, I would feel as little respect for the language skills of somebody who equated “flaunt” with “flout”, as I should for someone who said “mitigate” for “militate”. It may not be “wrong”, but it isn’t “right” either, and it’s certainly off-putting.

Welcome, shungiku, to this forum. Don’t be over-modest - when modesty is overdone, it ceases to be a virtue and becomes just a posture. Your English looks very good to me - would that all native speakers of English had as good a command of their native tongue (then we’d have fewer clods equating “flaunt” with “flout").

Your remark about our “all being decent” reminds me of Miranda’s exclamation in “the Tempest” - “O brave new world”......

Stick around.

;-)

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Posted: 22 March 2011 07:50 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Your friend is certainly wrong in claiming that “flout” is archaic.  I know a native English speaker who claims that the distinction between “its” and “it’s” is archaic and no longer worth bothering about, but that doesn’t make it so.

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Posted: 22 March 2011 08:45 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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One reason why flout is not archaic, is that there’s no precise synonym. Flouting a rule is not quite the same as disobeying, ignoring or defying it; it’s somewhere in the middle of all three.

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Posted: 22 March 2011 09:14 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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People like shungiku’s friend would claim that flaunt, when used in this sense, is an exact synonym.

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Posted: 22 March 2011 11:10 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Of course everybody is entitled to use the language as casually as they like

Why “casually”?  They’re using the language in the only way they know how; it is their version of English, just as your version is yours.  The fact that you don’t happen to like this aspect of their version is a psychological fact about you, not a fact about English.  I would remind you that there are certainly aspects of your version of English that other people would view with alarm and/or contempt.  Perspective is a wonderful thing.

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Posted: 22 March 2011 12:02 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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"I’ve just joined now, having read one of your previous discussion threads and thinking you all extremely clever and decent.”

It’s quite true, you know, but thank you for saying so.

“ I’m not particularly well-educated-- though I have been known to fake it for a pittance-- and I’ve spent most of my adulthood beyond the reaches of the English language. Additionally, my native part of the globe is not known for its native wit (or for anything at all, really). To varying degrees of
success English is the main language used in most parts of this country.  Matters are further complicated by the abundance of people here who, like me, assume that because English is their first (or even only) language, they’re somehow good at it. (Or is it ‘with’ it?  See? There. I’ve really not a clue). “

This is something of a riddle. I took your tag to be Japanese but it would seem you are not a Japanese native. What country are you referring to, may I ask?

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Posted: 22 March 2011 12:16 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Of course everybody is entitled to use the language as casually as they like

Why “casually”?  They’re using the language in the only way they know how; it is their version of English, just as your version is yours.  The fact that you don’t happen to like this aspect of their version is a psychological fact about you, not a fact about English.  I would remind you that there are certainly aspects of your version of English that other people would view with alarm and/or contempt.  Perspective is a wonderful thing.

As usual, Languagehat says it better than I did. But Lionello illustrates the best reason why one should not conflate flaunt and flout; people will focus on your perceived language skills rather than your message.

And hence my splitting of the descriptive and prescriptive. The English language as she is spoken conflates the two—that’s descriptive. But one is advised not to do so, not because it is “wrong,” but because people will be upset by it and your message will be lost—that is prescriptive.

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Posted: 22 March 2011 02:30 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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For most of my adult life I have (through force of circumstance) done a great deal more technical and scientific writing than writing for pleasure. In such circumstances, one gets into the habit of choosing one’s words carefully, to express a meaning as precisely as possible --- and in the nature of things, the meaning of words tends to get narrowed down. These habits have a way of spilling over into one’s private writing (and into one’s speech, too). And I don’t believe that’s a bad thing. Surely, the more we mess about with the accepted meaning of words, and blur the differences between them, the less able we must become to convey our meaning to others? “People will focus on your language skills and not on your message” says Dave. How can I read your message if I’m not sure what your words mean? I’m not talking about style. Technical jargon and street argot can both be equally clear, in the mouth of someone who knows what they’re talking about, and knows what their words mean - both to themselves, and to their interlocutor.

If anyone views my version of English with alarm and contempt - well, bless ‘em. My only prayer is that it won’t be because I don’t make my meaning as clear as I can.

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Posted: 22 March 2011 04:21 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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That is true, but in this case—and in most cases where “clarity” is thrown up as the reason for a prescription—clarity is not an issue. If someone says “he flaunted the law,” everyone knows what is being said. There is no confusion, no misunderstanding.

Meaning is often narrowed, but just as often it is generalized. A word may have a narrow meaning in a particular technical jargon, but a more general or even metaphorical meaning in ordinary usage. Knowledge of context and audience is important to good writing.

(I’m still not advocating that anyone use flaunt instead of flout, quite the opposite. I’m just saying that the labeling the usage as “wrong” or “incorrect” is inaccurate by any measure of how the word is actually used in US English.)

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Posted: 23 March 2011 05:50 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Lionello: Once again, you are assuming that someone who violates your preferred usage isn’t choosing their words carefully, when in fact they are simply speaking the language as they know it.  You don’t seem to have grasped my point, so I’ll try to make it clearer with examples.  Do you find anything wrong with “he was aggravated” or “he was anxious to leave”?  If not, I have news for you: many people (though not, thankfully, as many as a few decades ago) find both of them just as bad as you find “he flaunted the law” and would blame you in the same terms you use.  If you do in fact have a problem with those, let me know and I’ll keep going until I find an example that works for you if I have to go back to Middle English and the misuse of “bead” to mean “little round thing” instead of its correct meaning, “prayer.” Language changes, and “clarity” (as Dave so well says) has nothing to do with it.

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Posted: 23 March 2011 07:20 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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I’m with Lionello, I think.  While I agree that language changes, and common usage dictates that it will change, there are still rules and conventions to be followed.  I don’t think lionello is saying that language shouldn’t change - that would be stupid and futile, as etymology shows.  I do think, though, that current written linguistic conventions (and they exist) should be followed for the sake of clarity, and that not following them grates on the ears of those who know the rules and conventions.  Not that that in itself is a reason for following the rules, it’s just the way we language-using humans are.  We judge against current accepted usage, while still allowing that such usage is ephemeral.

You may not agree with people who are judgmental, but having specified linguistic rules as the norm is as much the way it is as is the ultimate changing of those rules.  It’s an interesting dichotomy which will exist as long as we try to control the language we speak.  On the one hand, we do need some rules to follow; on the other, we insist on having the freedom to use words as we want and to change those rules. 

I hope I’m not flaunting any descriptivist rules by posting this. But if I am, well, as they say, if you’ve got it, flout it. (Adapted from Zero Mostel, The Producers 1968).

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Posted: 23 March 2011 07:32 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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It is indeed an interesting dichotomy, and it exists within myself: I don’t like the use of flaunt for flout any more than you or lionello.  The difference is that I’m aware that my dislike is simply a personal preference and says nothing about either the English language or the people who use it differently.  But I’m very sympathetic to the dislike and I hope it’s clear I’m not putting anybody down.

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Posted: 23 March 2011 07:37 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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If someone says “he flaunted the law,” everyone knows what is being said. There is no confusion, no misunderstanding.

Well, I wouldn’t. When I read that, I was stuck with an image of a guy with the Wisconsin State Code in his hands, waving it over his head and laughing. Then, I thought of the possible misuse.

I’m very much with Lionello on this. I don’t correct kids anymore who say, “Me and Julio down by the schoolyard” or that “sucks”. But they are markers of a certain age cohort. I suppose that this is a point of transition of language like that point when the adjectives “awful” and “artificial” moved from the positive realm to the disparaging.

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Posted: 23 March 2011 08:58 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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I’m aware that my dislike is simply a personal preference and says nothing about either the English language or the people who use it differently

I don’t think we really disagree about this. After all, how do we expand our vocabularies, if not by hearing, or seeing, words that other people are using, and then trying to find out what they mean by them? My objections are centered mostly on professional writers who use what to them are new words, without bothering to find out what they mean to people who’ve used them before. In a professional writer, that’s slipshod work, for which there’s never any excuse; the rest of us look for guidance to such people, and all too often don’t get it - instead, we get flaunt for flout, and mitigate for militate (I first saw that one in Time magazine, BTW).  Journalists used (occasionally, at any rate ;-) to be writers like Joseph Addison, or Francis Bret Harte, or Mark Twain, or George Orwell, who wouldn’t flout their ignorance in print, or flaunt the conventions of common usage.

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