Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Case of the Swiss Nudists and the Lexicographical Pickle

From a Maclean’s piece about a government crackdown on an epidemic of nude hiking in Switzerland’s mountain footpaths:

“Hikers who flaunt the rules (among other things) will be fined up to 200 Swiss francs for baring their bottoms.”

This is where I come down on the side of traditionalism. Not on the subject of nude hiking by the Swiss (I have no strong feelings one way or the other about that), but on the distinction between flaunt and flout. I know that some promiscuous lexicographers and writers are starting to conflate the two—as indicated by the winking “among other things” aside in the passage above. But I maintain that those hikers, whatever they may be flaunting (displaying ostentatiously), are flouting (disregarding with contempt) the rules. Once again I quote the eminent Bill Bryson, who reminds us that “there is every reason for keeping these meanings distinct.” Personally, if I were to encounter a nude Swiss hiker, I would want to know if he was contemptuously flouting or just unabashedly flaunting. Wouldn’t you?