Friday, November 10, 2006

Flagrantly Blatant

Blatant and flagrant are often treated as synonyms, something that throws language purists into conniption fits. “Conspicuously reprehensible” sums up the shared meaning.

The American Heritage Dictionary
prefers blatant if you are referring to the shameless in-your-face nature of the act, and flagrant if you are emphasizing the serious moral failure at the heart of the act.

Blatant is a word that was either invented or adapted by Edmund Spenser in his Fairie Queene. It was probably related to the word bleating, and it may owe its existence to the Latin blatire, to babble. Today, it is a word that depends upon sight, but originally, it related to the auditory sense. In fact, for a couple of centuries, its sole meaning was noisy or clamorous.

Flagrant owes its existence to the Latin flagrare, to burn. Glowing, fiery, and hot were the original meanings, but by the 18th century, it had taken on the sense of notorious or scandalous.

If you are prone to outbursts of censoriousness, there are other fine words at your disposal: atrocious, audacious, brazen, disgraceful, flagitious, glaring, gross, heinous, monstrous, nefarious, outrageous, rank, scandalous, and shocking. I can feel the temperature rising.

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