Language Police

Picking up on a theme from Eugene Volokh, I too am a language pedant in many ways. My biggest pet peeve is those who fail to recognize the distinction between restrictive and unrestrictive clauses, and therefore use “which” when they should use “that”. The British usage of “which” particularly gets under my skin.

Again yesterday on Fox News, someone (I can’t recall whether reporter or guest) discussing Saddam Hussein’s reactions to the United Nations predicted grave consequences if Saddam “continues to flaunt [emphasis added] UN resolutions.”

AAAARGH!!!! Clearly the speaker meant “flout”.

According to the American Heritage Dictionary:

flaunt 1. To exhibit ostentatiously; show off 2. Non-standard To flout.

See that? Non-standard! There’s a perfectly good substitute for using “flaunt” to mean “flout”: flout!!! (NOTE: this is the same argument I use for why one should not use “impact” as a verb substitute for “effect”)

flout 1. To show contempt for; scorn.

If you mean flout, say flout, not flaunt. Be precise to be more persuasive.

Gee, can you tell that I’m a professor ;->?

UPDATE: According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the uber-reference (with the historical usage citations deleted):

flaunt, v.
1. intr. Of plumes, banners, etc.: To wave gaily or proudly. Of plants: To wave so as to display their beauty.
2. a. Of persons: To walk or move about so as to display one’s finery; to display oneself in unbecomingly splendid or gaudy attire; to obtrude oneself boastfully, impudently, or defiantly on the public view. Often quasi-trans. to flaunt it (away, out, forth). b. Of things: To be extravagantly gaudy or glaringly conspicuous in appearance.
3. trans. To display ostentatiously or obtrusively; to flourish, parade, show off.

flout, v.
1. trans. a. To mock, jeer, insult; to express contempt for, either in word or action. Also to flout (a person) out of (something). b. To quote or recite with sarcastic purpose.
2. intr. To behave with disdain or contumely, to mock, jeer, scoff; to express contempt either by action or speech. Also dial. to scold. Const. at; whence in indirect passive.

Thus according to the OED, for my money the final arbiter in usage here (they are even good on “that” and “which”), “flaunt” is not even a non-standard synonym for “flout”.