flounder, founder
These two words are easily confused because their form and meanings are both close. The physical meaning of flounder is ‘to struggle in mud or while wading’ and hence ‘to stumble or move clumsily’, and from these meanings developed the abstract sense ‘to perform a task badly or without knowledge; to be out of one's depth’. The corresponding meanings of founder are (physical) with reference to a ship, ‘to fill with water and sink’, and (abstract) with reference to a plan, scheme, intention, etc., ‘to come to nothing, to fail’. In the abstract senses, where the confusion mostly lies, it is therefore normally people who flounder and plans and relationships (and suchlike) that founder. In practice the use of both words in their physical meanings as part of a larger metaphor (as in the 1980 example that follows) tends to blur the boundaries between literal and metaphorical use. The following examples will help to clarify the differences between flounder and founder: (flounder)

• The family physician bucks the case to a psychosomaticist, who flounders in jargon —Time, 1971

• ‘You'll feel better later on,’ he floundered —H. Forrester, 1990

• (counter example) Creativity, once a hallmark of primary education, floundered on the exams altar —Times Educational Supplement, 2007

• (founder) I wanted to leave England…I did not intend to be aboard when that particular Titanic finally foundered in a sea of bureaucracy —K. Hagenbach, 1980

• Without…help, the marriage may founder, thus providing…another dire example to romantic young people that ‘arranged marriages are best’ —P. Caplan, 1985

• Alfred's quest to obtain a vital set of aerial photographs has foundered in a Kafkaesque comedy of setbacks and misunderstandings —Times, 2006

Modern English usage. 2014.

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(as an animal in the mire), , , , , , , , (Pleuronectes or Platessa flesus)

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Flounder — (rarely: fluke) are flatfish that live in ocean waters ie., Northern Atlantic and waters along the east coast of the United States and Canada, and the Pacific Ocean, as well. The name flounder refers to several geographically and taxonomically… …   Wikipedia

  • Flounder — Floun der, n. [Cf. Sw. flundra; akin to Dan. flynder, Icel. fly?ra, G. flunder, and perh. to E. flounder, v.i.] 1. (Zo[ o]l.) A flatfish of the family {Pleuronectid[ae]}, of many species. [1913 Webster] Note: The common English flounder is… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • flounder — Ⅰ. flounder [1] ► VERB 1) stagger clumsily in mud or water. 2) have trouble doing or understanding something. USAGE On the confusion of flounder and founder, see the note at FOUNDER(Cf. ↑founder) …   English terms dictionary

  • Flounder — Floun der, v. i. [imp. & p. p. {Floundered}; p. pr. & vb. n. {Floundering}.] [Cf. D. flodderen to flap, splash through mire, E. flounce, v.i., and flounder the fish.] To fling the limbs and body, as in making efforts to move; to struggle, as a… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • flounder — UK US /ˈflaʊndər/ verb [I] ► to have serious financial or economic problems: »Stock markets all over the world are floundering due to the current recession. »In spite of a slight increase in exports, the economy continues to flounder. floundering …   Financial and business terms

  • flounder — flounder1 [floun′dər] vi. [earlier flunder, ? blend of BLUNDER + FOUNDER1] 1. to struggle awkwardly to move, as in deep mud or snow; plunge about in a stumbling manner 2. to speak or act in an awkward, confused manner, with hesitation and… …   English World dictionary

  • Flounder — Floun der, n. The act of floundering. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • flounder — index mismanage Burton s Legal Thesaurus. William C. Burton. 2006 …   Law dictionary

  • flounder — vb *stumble, trip, blunder, lurch, lumber, galumph, lollop, bumble Analogous words: struggle, strive (see ATTEMPT): toil, travail, labor (see corresponding nouns at WORK): *wallow, welter …   New Dictionary of Synonyms

  • flounder — [v] struggle; be in the dark blunder, bobble, cast about, come apart at the seams*, drop the ball*, fall down, flop, flummox, foul up*, fumble, go at backwards*, go to pieces*, grope, labor, lurch, make a mess of, miss one’s cue*, muddle, plunge …   New thesaurus

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