• flout •
Pronunciation: flæwt • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Verb
Meaning: 1. To defiantly disobey (a law or convention). 2. (Archaic) To express contempt in one's behavior, to jeer, mock.
Notes: This word is often confused with flaunt, which means "to show off", with results that range from misleading to hilarious. You may flout the law by breaking it, but to flaunt the law would require an ostentatious display of a law. The noun flout may be applied to a singular piece of mockery: "That was a particularly telling flout, Cruella." Defiant disobedience in general is floutage. One who flouts is a flouter, who behaves floutingly.
In Play: More often the contempt is expressed by action: "You flout all standards of decency; don't imagine for a moment you're going out dressed like that." The second sense of flout is now less common: "Dennis was flouting the CEO to anyone who would listen and to several who wouldn't."
Word History: Today's Good Word came from Middle English flouten "to play the flute", which may have been borrowed from the Old French name for the instrument itself, flaute or fleute. These two different versions of the instrument's name account for the fact that someone who plays the flute is called a flautist. The connection with mockery may relate to the laughing tones of the flute. We have a jeering gesture made by aligning both hands on the nose, thumb to pinky, and wriggling all fingers in imitation of playing a flute. In fact, English may have borrowed the word from Dutch fluiten "to play the flute, whistle in derision". German dialect pfeifen auf, literally "pipe at", has a similar extended meaning.