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Flaunting flautists and brazen blazes

I haven’t been here long, but already a grammatical dustup reminds me of one reason why this job is so much fun.

It all started with a headline in the Jan. 3 Index-Tribune, “Sonomans flaunt wood-burn rules.” According to several letter-writers, it should have read, “Sonomans flout wood-burn rules.”

Merriam-Webster defines flaunt as “to display ostentatiously or impudently.” It also provides a secondary definition, more or less the same as that of flout: “to treat contemptuously.” This is obviously the meaning we were looking for. (It adds that this version of flaunt “undoubtedly arose from confusion with flout.”)

For example, say you are a flautist. Flautists always flaunt their flaut while on parade. But they never really flout their flaut – or if they do, they should probably switch to clarinet.

It gets complicated, especially when you consider the derivation of these words. The origin of flaunt is not certain, but may come from a Nordic word meaning “to run back and forth” or “to rush around.”


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