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Wrestling, flaunting and flouting

December 13, 2012

I’ve just been watching an enjoyably nostalgic documentary about professional wrestling in Britain in the 1970s/80s, with voiceover by Christopher Eccleston, who at one point said: ‘Villains had always flaunted the rules’. Flaunted the rules? As in publicly displayed them in an ostentatious and provocative manner? No, no, Christopher, you meant that the villains flouted the rules. As in holding them in contempt. I don’t know whether Eccleston wrote the script; if he didn’t that’s even worse, because then two people don’t know the meaning of flaunt. But it’s more than two, of course, because the director and the producer and all the other people involved in this production must have heard this before the final edit, and nobody noticed.

This confusion is an old one. Back in the 90s I read a book, Animal Rights, by the American philosopher Tom Regan, which used flaunt for flout several times. I wrote to Tom Regan about the the ideas in the book, and couldn’t resist adding as a post-script that he’d got these two words mixed up. He was courteous enough to reply and answer my points, but he didn’t mention the PS.

I suppose it’s an understandable confusion, because the two words do sound similar, and there is a slight semantic connection in that they do both have something to do with scorn or lack of respect for others . I still can’t help finding it annoying, though.

I should add, though, that I’m now watching Question Time and Will Self has just used flout correctly.

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