Flout vs. Flaunt? When Do We Use These and When Don’t We?


flout vs flaunt

“Homonyms” denote word pairs with unique spellings and meanings but sound almost identical when pronounced. Then, there are terms such as “flout” and “flaunt” that are not spelled or pronounced the same and have distinct meanings too. Despite these disparities, they tend to get used interchangeably quite often.

The words “flout” and “flaunt” mean “to treat something with disdain” and “ostentatious display”, respectively. The word “flout” is usually used in sentences that discuss rules, laws, conventions, etc. The term “flaunt”, on the other side, deals with the “showy display of wealth, talent, skills, etc.”

If you thought “flout” and “flaunt” are interchangeable words, kindly read this before using either of the words in your texts ever again.

definition of definition in dictionary

“Flout” – Definition 

As mentioned above, “flout” means “to openly disregard a thing”. The term is synonymous with word(s) such as “show scorn”, “mock”, “scoff at”, etc. If you host a party late at night in a city, county, or state where the law suggests against it, you are basically “flouting” the rules or authority.  

According to multiple dictionaries, the word “flout” is related to “flute”, a musical instrument. But the reasons why the two words are linked with each other are not clear. Not to mention, this supposed association seems weird and also funny, as “flute” and “disregarding laws” don’t seem related at all.

A theory, however, suggests that flute could sound a tad like “derisive whistling” or “jeering”. And the fact that the Dutch word “fluiten”, which means “playing the flute” and “mocking or deriding someone or something”, is similar to “flute” in spelling and pronunciation only corroborates or lends credence to that theory.

“Flaunt” – Definition 

The term “flaunt” means “exhibiting something showily”, as in “to show off”. When you’re “flaunting” yourself, your wealth, accomplishments, etc., you are putting them out for everyone to see without others asking for the “showcase”. Such an exhibition of things supposedly has its roots in “excessive pride” or “superiority complex”.

Unlike most other English terms, there’s no clear or documented origin for the word “flaunt”. According to a few theories, however, “flaunt” may have been picked up from “flankt”, a Swedish word that means “loosely fluttering”. The Oxford English Dictionary doesn’t recognize this origin, but it also doesn’t throw any light on what could have possibly been the actual root word or conception of “flaunt”.

The Mix-up Between “Flout” and “Flaunt” 

Despite their multiple discrepancies, “flout” and “flaunt” get used in place of another. Using the word “flaunt” instead of “flout” is a lot more common occurrence, however. The term “flout” being used instead of “flaunt” is not that widespread comparatively. This is because the term “flout” is not as commonly used by most English writers and speakers as “flaunt” is.

The words “flout” and “flaunt” have been associated with the English language since the 15th century. The term “flout” was coined first, and “flaunt” showed up only a decade later. They, however, were first used interchangeably during the 20th century – with the misuse becoming increasingly common during the 1930s and later during the ‘40s.

Once the meaning “to treat contemptuously” and “flaunt” became synonymous and widely accepted, it was almost impossible to convince people against it or make them acknowledge their error. The following sentence would seem fine to people who’ve grown to learn that “flaunt” and “contempt” go hand in hand:

  • The young lady was flaunting the rules.

This error linking “flaunt” and “rules” is so standard that after “wealth”, the things that are supposedly “flaunted” the most are “rules” and “the law”.

This mix-up, however, is not purely coincidental or without its catalyst. The fact that “flout” and “flaunt” have an underlying tone of “disapproval” explains, to an extent, the misuse or misinterpretation of “flaunt”. Both words describe an act or behavior most people would likely find “improper” or “unseemly”.

girl flaunting money and riches

Distinguishing Between “Flout” and “Flaunt” 

As mentioned before, “flout” and “flaunt” have no shared attributes. Right from their spellings, pronunciations, and meanings, everything about them is quite distinct. But if you still manage to confuse the two terms, like the hundreds and thousands of English language speakers and writers worldwide, the following trick/tip could help draw the line of distinction.

For the trick to work, you should be sure of the meanings of both words. If you know what they mean, you could apply those meanings to different writing contexts or ascertain whether “flout” or “flaunt” fits into a given sentence. In the following sentence, for example, it’s easy to ascertain that “flaunt” is rightly used:

  • One of the reasons behind you flaunting something could be to taunt people. 

If you know what “flout” means, you’ll not use the word in the above sentence, even in your sleep. Similarly, if you’re aware of the meaning of “flaunt”, you’ll know the following sentence is grammatically incorrect: 

  • The cyclists were caught flaunting the competition’s rules.

Remember, acting out of what’s considered the norm is “flouting”, and “flaunting” is what rich kids do on social media. By displaying their wealth, those kids are not “flouting” any law.

Using “Flout” and “Flaunt” in Texts 

The verb “flout” should be used in writings when there is an apparent disregard for rules or the norm. Though “flout” implicates a false sense of pride, you certainly do not “flout” your Italian leather jacket.

As mentioned before, the term “flaunt” is commonly used to denote “display of wealth” or anything that sets one apart from others according to one’s perception. For example:

  • The entire family likes to flaunt its wealth.

The verb “flaunt” is typically used in relation to wealth, worldly possessions, exquisite clothing, innate skills, etc. The word can also be used to describe acts of non-human subjects. For example: 

  • The peacock likes to flaunt its colorful feathers.

Displaying its feathers may look like “flaunting” if you don’t understand how peacocks behave, or that putting feathers on display is the technique peacocks naturally employ to attract their mates. 

The word “flaunting” having nothing to do with pride or showing off in specific scenarios is illustrated in the following sentence too: 

  • The flag flaunted in the breeze.

In the above sentence, the term “flaunted” basically means the flag “fluttered” or “waved showily”. 

Also, both “flout” and “flaunt” can be used in the same sentence. For example: 

  • They flaunted their new motorbikes by popping wheelies, only to run a red light soon after and flout traffic laws.

Not to mention, the verb “flaunt” is a part of the idiom: “If you’ve got it, flaunt it”. It means one shouldn’t hesitate to display or show off their talents and good attributes. Here is a passage using that expression: 

  • Don’t overthink about the work atmosphere there. Your sense of humor can certainly shake things up for the good. If you’ve got it, flaunt it.

The idiomatic usage of the word connotes “creating a positive impression about one’s self on others” and not “snobbery”.

Example Sentences with the Word “Flout” 

The following are sentences using the term “flout” as it is and in its various avatars:

  • By wearing semi-formal attire to the office, the new hires were flouting the rules.
  • The students who were caught flouting the rules were duly punished.
  • If anyone is caught flouting hygiene rules, they will be sacked immediately.
  • Tenants found flouting the recycling laws will be heavily fined.
  • The deputy prime minister of the country tried to flout the region-wide ban.
  • Not wearing a helmet while riding a motorcycle is flouting the rules.
  • The orchestra musicians wore regular attire to the concert, flouting convention in the process.
  • She thinks she can get away by flouting the law.
  • Stores that flout the city-wide ban will pay the price.

Example Sentences with the Term “Flaunt” 

Here are sentences that incorporate the verb “flaunt” in different ways:

  • He has been flaunting his recent promotions with multiple luxury watch purchases.
  • I don’t like the way she flaunts her designer outfits in the office.
  • Between my library card and my iPhone, I would choose to flaunt the former.
  • Rich kids can be seen flaunting their wealth, sports cars, jewelry, mansions, etc., on Instagram.
  • She often wears fur and jewelry to flaunt her riches.
  • He owns a private jet and still doesn’t flaunt it.
  • Most people who buy luxury goods do so to flaunt the labels and not because they genuinely love the product.
  • She was flaunting her smooth, freshly waxed arms and legs.
  • It is not safe to flaunt cash in public places, especially in crowded areas.
  • During the Middle Ages, knights used their swords in battle and also to flaunt their reputation and rank.

Conclusion

open book with letters flying around

Contrary to what most believe, dictionaries do not ascertain the meanings of words and thrust them on people. It works the other way around. A new term usually gets adopted with its meaning into the lexicon if it has been in circulation among the public for a while.

However, dictionaries also have the implied responsibility of correcting incorrect usage of terms or not adopting meanings of new words or alternate meanings of existing words when those are clearly wrong.

Despite “flaunt” is used commonly to denote “contempt”, it’s incorrect and will pretty much never make its way into any recognized dictionary with that meaning or interpretation. Even if it does, you should know better. 

Shawn Manaher

Shawn Manaher is the founder and CEO of The Content Authority. He's one part content manager, one part writing ninja organizer, and two parts leader of top content creators. You don't even want to know what he calls pancakes.

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