Posts Tagged ‘Writing Tips

They flouted their disregard for the laws concerning proper disposal of hazardous waste.

Oh, he’s just playing politics. He’s flaunting the state’s constitution to push a political agenda, but what he’s trying to do won’t hold up under legal scrutiny.

In the examples shown above, flouted should be flaunted, and flaunting should be flouting.

Recently I’ve run across these and many similar misuses of the words “flout” and “flaunt” in print, online and on the radio. It seems as though a lot of people have only a fuzzy idea of the difference between flout and flaunt, so I think it’s worth taking a moment to talk about them.




Unfortunately, dogs can't read ... This one enjoys taking a stroll at Kerrycroy near a sign that states “No dogs.” Where is the dog’s rule-flouting owner? (Click image for source and credit)

To flout is to ignore or defy authority, or to treat laws with contemptuous disregard and scorn. It can also mean to mock or insult someone, or treat someone with contempt.

Brazen defiance and deliberate offense are contained in the notion of flout. If someone chooses to flout a rule or law or social convention, for example, their act shows a certain brash arrogance toward others. Why? Because to flout is to challenge and to affront, all while in the act of making one’s disdain plainly evident.

You can see, then, that the sentence beginning with “they flouted their disregard …” makes no sense, because it means the people in question ignored their disregard or treated it with contempt. By contrast, the correct word, flaunted, means they proudly or ostentatiously displayed their disregard in front of others in a way that indicated they mocked the laws.




Do you flaunt what you’ve got to inspire envy in others? (Click image for source and credit)

To flaunt means to ostentatiously display oneself or something, or to parade in a showy and public way, often with the intent to inspire envy in others.

Flaunt contains an element of strut and swagger, of grandstanding and shameless spectacle. Those who flaunt engage in a theatrical, flashy exhibition that is intended to impress others in some dramatic way.

Consider the sentence that opens with “he’s flaunting the state’s constitution ….” In that case, the rest of the sentence indicates that the politician in question is not trying to show off or pretentiously parade any part of the constitution to his advantage. Rather, by attempting to defy or ignore it in order to further his agenda, he is flouting the state’s constitution.

Writers, readers and listeners, are you among those who have been flouting when you should flaunt, and vice versa? If so, maybe now is the time to draw a clear distinction between the two in your own mind, and then do your part to stop the epidemic of misuse of flaunt and flout.

Talkback: Have you found examples of misuses of flout and flaunt? Do you have any favorites? Now is your chance to weigh in on this topic and share your insights, anecdotes and stories by leaving comments. Thanks!  Elizabeth Lexleigh  lexpower  The Write Ideas

Semantics: The Meaning of Words

Let’s untangle the meanings of “nauseous” and “nauseated” without having a cat fight. They share the same root word, but have different meanings. (Click here for image credit and source.)

Lately I’ve been spotting many misuses of nauseous and nauseated, which is unsettling, to say the least. And also kind of humorous.

While the two words both stem from the Latin nausea, meaning seasickness, they have different meanings.

The careful writer makes a distinction between them.



Something that is nauseous causes nausea.

For example, if you smell a nauseous odor, it makes you feel sick to your stomach.

You can also use the word figuratively to mean sickening, disgusting, or loathsome. For example, a nauseous idea or statement is one that disgusts you.

A perfectly fine synonym for nauseous is nauseating.



If something makes you feel sick to your stomach, you are nauseated.

Figuratively, the word can also be used to mean you feel sickened or disgusted.


Common Misuse

The most common misuse seems to be something similar to this: “I feel nauseous,” which actually means: “I feel I make other people sick to their stomachs.”

Hey, could be. But probably the speaker means to say: “I feel nauseated,” meaning: “I feel sick to my stomach.”

Now it’s your turn: Has the misuse of these two words caught your eye? Do you have any examples to share with us? Thanks for leaving a comment!   Elizabeth Lexleigh  LexPower  The Write Ideas

Meet two of my pet peeves in word usage: trooper and trouper

I am currently on a linguistic rampage about how to distinguish one from the other, because lately I’ve noticed an outbreak of misuse and misunderstanding involving these two words. Whenever I come across such an unfortunate lapse, it causes me to raise one eyebrow in dismay while staring at the offending noun through gimlet eyes.

The guilty know who they are (or, worse, maybe not).


Trooper - State Police

Are you a trooper? (Click image for credit and source)



Troop refers to a throng, crowd, herd or group. For example:

  • a troop of State Police officers
  • a troop (group) of friends
  • a troop (flock) of birds



Trooper typically designates a member of a military unit or a police force, or a member of a Girl Scout or Boy Scout troop.

Webster’s Third New International Unabridged Dictionary lists the following as examples of troopers:

  • enlisted cavalryman
  • paratrooper or soldier
  • mounted policeman
  • one of a body of State police, usually using motorized vehicles
  • Girl Scout or Boy Scout

By extension, “to be a real trooper” has come to mean “to show bravery and courage, especially in the face of adversity while on duty.”


Trouper - Member of a Theatrical Company

Are you a trouper? (Click image for credit and source)



Troupe refers to a company or group of performers on the stage: a company of actors and actresses; a theatrical troupe.



Trouper typically designates someone who is a member of a troupe, that is, an actor or an actress who belongs to a particular acting company.

By extension, “to be a real trouper” has come to mean knowing “the show must go on,” whatever it takes. Thus, a “real trouper” is a professional you can count on to help achieve the group’s goal, especially when the going gets rough. “Real troupers” will come through for you, no matter what, because they are committed, reliable and tenacious.

Once more then: Are you a trooper or a trouper?

Now it’s your turn: What are your pet “word pair” peeves? What sorts of homonymic misusage get under your skin, prompting you to think that civilization is irreversibly in decline? What confusions of meaning goad you into reaching for your red pen? What sorts of linguistic pratfalls provoke your inner editor to sally forth? Tell all in your comments – thanks!  Elizabeth Lexleigh  LexPower  The Write Ideas

Writers Are Always Looking for a Good Idea or Angle

Writers Are Always Looking for a Good Idea or Angle

As we consider all the things for which we can be thankful during the Thanksgiving holiday, writers in every field and genre will give thanks for finding that new idea or a fresh angle on it. Which writer, in passing the cranberry sauce or savoring a bite of pumpkin pie, will not sigh in relief at having tackled a project and successfully wrestled it into a form that delighted a reader, a client or an editor?

As we look beyond the oncoming holidays and over the winter horizon, we writers anticipate our next projects and assignments with pleasure, even as we hope our “idea well” does not run dry.

In the spirit of holiday sharing and giving, then, here are some of the methods I use to keep ideas flowing.

  • Practice “stream of consciousness” writing to jog ideas loose.
  • Read news websites.
  • Read blogs.
  • Read and participate in online discussion forums.
  • Search a topic, and then visit at least 10 of the sites that appear in the results list.
  • Engage in conversation with colleagues.
  • Read a wide variety of magazines, newspapers, and other publications.
  • Talk with family.
  • Talk with friends.
  • Read product literature.
  • Research a topic formally to learn the details and find out what the experts have to say.
  • Read textbooks on the subject.
  • Make diagrams as you read, to juxtapose topic points and make new associations.
  • Take part in brainstorming sessions.
  • Read encyclopedias, dictionaries and thesauruses.
  • Make time for meditation.
  • Ask yourself random questions, and take notes.
  • Write down ideas that pop into your head as you go about other activities.
  • Attend seminars and lectures.
  • Take one or more classes.
  • Look at photos, randomly or categorized by subject.
  • Keep a running outline and list every point you want to make as you work through a “big idea.”
  • Find out what people want to know about a particular topic.
  • Surf the net to “shake it up.”
  • Browse through bookstores and libraries – you never know what you’ll run across.
  • Practice taking a subject and seeing how many ways you can spin it for niche audiences.
  • Get out and about; have experiences, go on adventures and engage in activities.
  • Mine your own life experiences: What are your interests? What do you enjoy doing?
  • Use “freewriting” to spark ideas: Set a timer for, say, 10 minutes, and then just write. Write anything. Just keep writing until the timer goes off.
  • Read your work out loud.
  • Find your plinth, and then stand on it. This means establish your subject, or angle on it, and then focus relentlessly on it (especially useful for short pieces).
  • Visit “question websites” (writing-prompt generators) to find questions to use as writing prompts.
  • Listen to music lyrics from various musical genres to help jump-start your creative engine.
  • Keep an idea notebook.

How do you generate ideas and new perspectives on them? What helps you write?

Share your tricks of the trade—we’d all love to hear your story. Thanks! Elizabeth Lexleigh  LexPower  The Write Ideas


So, you need to write a report.

Almost every company and organization uses reports to communicate data and information to all sorts of internal and external audiences. Reports can be very useful tools in making decisions and taking action, if they are well written.

Here are six suggestions for making your reports more effective:

One, define your objective. What do you want to accomplish by writing this report? What is the single subject or problem you are addressing? You must have a specific purpose in mind, if you want to write an effective report.

Two, find out who your audience is and understand their concerns. This will help you formulate your strategy: which facts to include, and how to present them.

Three, focus on presenting facts and objective material. Keep the information detailed, concrete and on topic. Use tables and figures to present data. Include your sources.

Four, avoid speculation, subjectivity and displays of emotionalism. Maintain balance: one-sided partisanship will tend to alienate many of your readers and weaken your case.

Five, provide an introduction or executive summary. Many decision makers may not have the time (or inclination) to wade through pages of details. Some members of your audience will only want to get the gist of your argument. Also, if your report is longer than 15-20 pages, be sure to include a table of contents.

Six, close your report with a summary of the important information in the report, a conclusion drawn from the data and information you presented, and a recommendation of actions to take.

These suggestions will help your reports get the attention you want them to garner and make the desired impact.  Elizabeth Lexleigh  The Write Ideas  lexpower

In a large document, such as a user manual, remember that your readers can access the Glossary at any time to check on the meaning of a word they have encountered in the text.

Tailor the contents of the Glossary to your audience as regards which words you define and the technical level of their definitions.

When you define a word, do not use the word itself in the definition. For example:

Adumbrate. Riots and other forms of social unrest adumbrate a revolution.

Instead, use synonyms to define the word, so the reader can easily learn its meaning. For example:

Adumbrate. Riots and other forms of social unrest foreshadow a revolution.

Note that other synonyms for adumbrate might include prefigure, predict, suggest, indicate, point to, foresee, and symbolize. The synonym you choose must, of course, be appropriate for the context.

Consult a dictionary and a thesaurus to find synonyms. A good dictionary (especially an unabridged version) or a usage guide should also offer some help on correct usage.  Elizabeth Lexleigh  The Write Ideas

Here are some rules of thumb for managing document reviews.

First, define the following for each scheduled review cycle:

  • What has to be done?
  • By whom?
  • When (deadline)?

Be sure everyone gets a copy of schedules and deadlines.

Put everything in writing.

Set up a system so that you are told about changes to the product.

Take the initiative and stay in touch with all reviewers.

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