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Words, Nov. 25



From a Chicago Tribune article headlined "Airport security: Government in our pants":

"The head of a flight attendants' union local said that for anyone who has been sexually assaulted, it will drudge up some bad memories."

Not quite. "To unearth or bring to notice" is to dredge up. As a verb, drudge means "to perform menial, distasteful, dull or hard work." The noun drudge is the person who does that work. Samuel Johnson famously defined lexicographer (what he was) as "A writer of dictionaries, a harmless drudge."

A different word entirely, though with a similar sound, is dreck. I recently had access to correspondence between a journalist and a lawyer in which the journalist referred to dreck and the lawyer said she didn't know what he meant. He had to explain that dreck is a slang term for "excrement, dung" and "worthless trash, junk." It came into English from Yiddish in the 1920s.

I wish I had a quarter for every time I've had to explain something to a lawyer. Here's another one at work:

"In its effort to prematurely construct this facility, SWEPCO has flaunted the legal system and in the process is destroying a very sensitive environmental ecosystem."

Ernest Dumas asks, "Is there another ecosystem besides an environmental one?" Not in the known world.

Dumas also notes the erroneous use of flaunted. Flaunt and flout are like imply and infer. No matter how often drudges such as I try to explain the difference, people continue to misuse them, as if all our instruction was so much dreck. (I'll concede that not all of the offenders are lawyers.)

Once more. To flaunt is "to display ostentatiously": He flaunted his wealth. To flout, which is what the lawyer should have said, is "to ignore or treat with disdain": He flouted the rules of propriety. The two words are so often misused that some modern dictionaries treat them as synonyms. These dictionaries are wrong. Flout their advice.

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