Saturday, 4 December 2010

Let's flush it out, please

I like to think of myself as not overly fussy about pronunciation, spelling, grammar and terminology. Moving from one country to another you are challenged to adapt to all kinds of variations.

When I first came to Canada I recall being amazed when hearing someone refer with affection to their ant Ethel. How could an insect merit such devotion? It took me a while to figure out they meant aunt not ant.

In the over three years I lived in the US I adapted more, even saying zee rather than zed. Now I happily use store for shop, and truck for lorry, much to the chagrin of my UK relatives.

But there's one thing, as Churchill said "up with which I will not put."

Family historians speak of "putting flesh on the bones" of our genealogy to develop a picture of an ancestor as a person rather than a collection of statistics.

We put flesh on the bones by "fleshing it out."

We get rid of something by "flushing it out."

But how many times have I heard people say the one when they mean the other?

A Google search for < genealogy "flush it out" - flesh > yielded 1,910 results, whereas found 13,700 hits. That's about one in seven times, better than I thought.

A Google search will also find several posts by people just as aggravated by this misuse as I am.

You don't have to use either. There are plenty of other hackneyed, phrases such as "Paint a picture", "bring them to life", "breathe life into them", "make them come alive." Perhaps you could even be creative.

1 comment:

David said...

There does exist a legitimate use of "flush it out" NOT related to disposing of unwanted stuff. One can go through an extensive volume of material (e.g. a book, a database) to "flush out" all those last elusive details. This use, I believe, may come from the British "sport" of grouse shooting, where beaters are used to "flush" the birds out of the bushes. In general, however, your comments are right on.