Flaunt vs Flout

Words that look or sound similar are mixed up all the time, in spoken word and in print. A particular problem, especially in print, are the words flaunt and flout.

In the last month, I’ve seen the wrong word used at least three times: in a newspaper article, in a blog post and in two entirely different published books.

Ideally the editor, the copyeditor or, at the last resort, the proofreader should pick up incorrect word usage, no matter how alike the words seem when spoken aloud (or just written down!)

But alas, those hard working people are still only human and they miss things. It’s best if we can avoid the initial error – so here’s a quick guide on those two words and when to use them.

If you’ve got it, flaunt it

Flaunting is all about ostentatious display: showing off, basically, and in part to encourage others to admire you.

Male peacocks flaunt their sexy tailfeathers to get a mate; new-minted sports car owners may flaunt their flash new toy by speeding; the rich may flaunt their wealth by wearing expensive jewellery.

Sherlock Holmes flaunts his deductive skills and J-Lo and also Cat from Red Dwarf flaunt their booty; but Dolly Parton generally does not flaunt her charitable works.

Flouting the rules

The error I most commonly see is ‘flaunt’ used instead of ‘flout’. However, flaunting the rules and flouting the rules are two entirely different things.

The only person I can think of right away who is an inveterate flaunter of rules is Rimmer from Red Dwarf. If anyone can find a way to be persnickety and mealy-mouthed and insist on rules being followed to the letter, it’s Rimmer. He longs to be admired for his grasp of the Red Dwarf rulebook – but only when he thinks he can get one over on his shipmates. He’ll flout the rules happily enough the rest of the time.

Flout means to disregard the rules or to mock and scoff at them. When you smoke in a no smoking zone, you’re flouting the rules. Whenever you’re contrarily doing the opposite of the sign (standing on the grass in a park where signs say you should not stand on the grass; or parking in the no parking zone) you’re doing a fine job of flouting the rules.

You can even flout convention: be a pirate, be a punk, be a riotgrrrrl, be a radical. Whenever you stand out from the rest of society’s rules in a deliberate way, you’re flouting convention. (If you’re showing off your rad punk credentials at the same time as you’re smoking in a no-smoking zone, you’re flaunting your mohawk while flouting the rules).

Flautists

Just to mix things up, sometimes the spelling of the two words gets conflated. That gives you flaut, which isn’t a word on its own any more, but does relate to flautist – the UK term for a flute player. (These musicians tend to be called flutists in the US).

So separate your flaunting from your flouting (and your flautists flaunting their musical skill and flouting convention by playing in a wetsuit) and give those hardworking proofreaders one less obstacle!

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