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Stop! Grammar Time!

I heard someone say in a meeting the other day that she needed to “flush out” some creative concepts. Now, the old Aaron would’ve quickly denounced the woman’s seemingly lackadaisical approach to the Queen’s English, insisted that she commit to memory the difference between flush out and flesh out, then stood by and watched as she committed various acts of self-flagellation.

Instead, the new, improved Aaron (the one with far more patience and humility) turned to Paul Brians for a quick refresher:

To “flesh out” an idea is to give it substance, as a sculptor adds clay flesh to a skeletal armature. To “flush out” a criminal is to drive him or her out into the open. The latter term is derived from bird-hunting, in which one flushes out a covey of quail. If you are trying to develop something further, use “flesh”; but if you are trying to reveal something hitherto concealed, use “flush.”

So. Had the individual in question put together the structure of a concept and simply needed more time for further development? Or had she hit something of a creative roadblock, and was still searching for that one great idea? Her word choice suggests the latter, but I don’t think that’s what she meant.

The difference between flesh and flush is only a single letter—but, in this case anyway, it’s a pretty big difference.



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