Here we have two popular phrases that get confused with each other every now and then, mostly among speakers. But, anticipating that this confusion might someday make its way into people’s writing, I want to take the time to write a preemptive post discussing this phrase. So, how does the phrase go? Is it flesh out or flush out? And what is being fleshed out or flushed out? Well, it’s not that one choice is incorrect and the other is correct, they are just two different phrases with different meanings.In this post, I want to talk about these phrases, their meanings, and how to use them in a sentence. At the end, I will also give you a trick to remember the difference. After reading this post, you won’t ever mix up flesh out vs. flush out again.Use of flesh out:The phrase to flesh out means to put flesh on bare bones. When taken literally, this phrase can be a bit graphic, but it’s usually used in a figurative sense to indicate the further development of a project or idea.Examples:President Barack Obama will today attempt to flesh out his energy strategy with the unveiling of a major new incentive scheme designed to improve the energy efficiency of commercial buildings. [Business Green]The prequel, which aims to flesh out Sam Axe’s backstory, is set in late 2005. [TV Squad]Some of these poets and communities were hard to find because they didn’t have fleshed out websites or buildings with addresses in the phone book. [Chicago Tribune]If you are working on a school project that is still in its infancy, you might need to flesh out some of the details. In other words, you need to work through the details and give them some “flesh,” some “meat,” some “substance.” You need to put some meat on the bones of your project.Use of flush out:The phrase to flush out means to bring someone out in the open for examination. It is commonly used in discussions of police investigations and wartime strategies. The metaphor originates from bird hunting, where it is common to use a hunting dog to shoo out birds from hiding. The dog flushes out the bird into the open.Examples:Omaha police are hoping for help from the public to flush out a thief who has been stealing brass from public restrooms. [KETV Omaha]A drive in the forest to try and flush out “Bigfoot” will be held Saturday, Feb. 12. [Montgomery Herald (article now offline)]Jynx flushed Connor out and bit him as he opened fire with an AK-47. [Reading Eagle]Flesh out or flush out:So is it flush out or flesh out? As usual, it depends on the context of your sentence. To flesh out is to add substance to an idea, project, theory, etc. To flush out is to bring something out into the open for examination. You can remember this by remembering that to flesh out is to put flesh, or meat, on bare bones. Imagine a bare skeleton that a sculptor adds clay flesh to build out. So when you think of this phrase, think of bare bones and flesh. To flush out is to bring something out in the open. Imagine something clogging a pipe in your kitchen but it being flushed out in to the open.
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