Yesterday during a meeting a co-worker said they were going to “flush out” an idea and suddenly my inner twelve-year-old couldn’t stop snickering. I had to pretend I was suppressing a sneeze so as not to give myself away.
I’ve always been one to “flesh out” and idea, and I had the vague understanding that it came from Renaissance-era art, but it wasn’t an idiom I thought much about and even more rarely used.
Turns out I’m not the only person who’s had some trouble discerning the differentiation between “fleshing out” an idea and “flushing out” an idea. Paul Brians of the Department of English at Washington State University drops the knowledge:
To â€œflesh outâ€ an idea is to give it substance, as a sculptor adds clay flesh to a skeletal armature. To â€œflush outâ€ 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 â€œfleshâ€; but if you are trying to reveal something hitherto concealed, use â€œflush.â€
The differences are slight, especially where one is talking about ideas or intellectual pursuits, so I can see why folks would get confused. But if you think back to the source and origin of the phrases, you won’t get things wrong.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to flush out an unwritten blog post and flesh out another half-written one.
Are you with me?