“Flush Out” Versus “Flesh Out” and Other Common Eggcorns and Idio-mistakes
Written by Kimberly MacArthur Graham on March 26, 2014
As a language geek and etymology freak, I adore idioms. What isn’t to love about “scapegoat,” “three sheets to the wind” or “looking a gift horse in the mouth”? They are vivid expressions that add color and fun to communication, especially when used conversationally.
The English language, for all of its awkwardness, is particularly rich in idiomatic expressions. Many have fascinatingly obscure origins; others are more obvious that you’d think. In any case, they are wonderful assets to our language – when used appropriately. Unfortunately, there are a lot of ways to go wrong.
To save you from idio-embarrassment, below are 3 common idio-mistakes that you should read once (here) and never repeat.
- “flesh out” vs. “flush out” — Though often confused, these two phrases actually mean very different things. Use “flesh out” when you’re developing something or adding to it. “Flush out” means to clean (as with water) or to reveal something hidden. You flesh out an idea; you flush out terrorists.
- “bald-faced” vs. “bold face” — As in a “lie” so described. The actual saying is “bald-faced,” meaning “undisguised” and deriving from a face without whiskers being unable to “hide” a lie. Speaking of untruths, some people believe that “bold face” is right, referring to newspapers using bold face (type) in headlines that stretched the truth to sell papers. Interesting, but unfortunately, NOT true.
- “for all intensive purposes” – A great example of an eggcorn*, this is a nonsensical garbling of the expression “for all intents and purposes.” Meaning “for all practical purposes,” the correct phrase originated in English law, as the phrase, “with all intents, constructions, and purposes.”
*Wondering “What in heck is an eggcorn?” According to our good friend Wikipedia: In linguistics, an eggcorn is an idiosyncratic substitution of a word or phrase for a word or words that sound similar or identical in the speaker’s dialect.