Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Flaunt for flout (PBS, sheesh)

From the voiceover narration for Summer of Love (2007), a PBS American Experience episode about Haight-Ashbury in 1967, recently reaired:

The hippies openly flaunted the law.
Make that flouted.

Here’s what Merriam-Webster has to say about flaunt for flout:
Although the “treat contemptuously” sense of flaunt undoubtedly arose from confusion with flout, the contexts in which it appears cannot be called substandard. . . . If you use it, however, you should be aware that many people will consider it a mistake.
This reasoning puzzles me. Even educated speakers and writers make mistakes, yes, but I can’t agree that “contexts” legitimate mistakes. And why would “many people” consider flaunt for flout a mistake? Perhaps because it is one? Apply M-W’s reasoning here to spelling: if you misspell this word, many people will consider it a mistake. Yes, those who know how to spell the word, because that’s not how it’s spelled.

Garner’s Modern English Usage takes a swipe at M-W:
One federal appellate judge who misused flaunt for flout in a published opinion — only to be sic’d and corrected by judges who later quoted him — appealed to W3 [Webster’s Third] and its editors, who, of course, accept as standard any usage that can be documented with any frequency at all. . . . Seeking refuge in a nonprescriptive dictionary, however, merely ignores the all-important distinction between formal contexts, in which strict standards of usage must apply, and informal contexts, in which venial faults of grammar or usage may, if we are lucky, go unnoticed (or unmentioned). Judges’ written opinions fall into the first category.
Which category does the voiceover narration for a PBS documentary fall into? That of formal contexts, I’d say, even if the documentary is about the Summer of Love.

And now I feel like Sergeant Joe Friday: “Distinctions in usage may not mean much to you youngsters, not when you’re flying high on goofballs and LSD and taking refuge in a nonprescriptive dictionary. But generations of grammarians and lexicographers and writers have thought hard about these questions, and some of them weren’t willing to say that we should all just do our own thing,” &c. I think that’s a pretty good Sergeant Friday.

Related reading
All OCA sheesh posts (Pinboard)

[Among the definitions of flaunt in W3: “to treat contemptuously.” The usage note appears in M-W’s Collegiate, 11th ed., and online.]

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