Saturday, October 03, 2009

Do Flounders Founder?

The differences between founder and flounder were raised on the show last week. To founder is to plunge to the bottom, to submerge. It is connected to the Latin word fundus, which means bottom.

To flounder, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is of obscure etymology. In early use, it meant to struggle and stumble and flail about as if mired in muck. That entry also contained this notation: “. . . the many verbs with initial fl- expressing impetuous and clumsy movements.”

I had never thought of that before, and I don’t know the reason why that should be, but a quick perusal came up with

• flabbergast
• flack (v.1)
• flag (someone down)
• flail
• flap
• flinch
• flip
• flounce
• flounder
• flop
• flub
• fluctuate
• flurry
• fluster
• flutter

At a guess, perhaps it’s because fluttering lips often accompany exasperation and agitation. The same thing happens with the sn- sequence and its connection to the nose, but that’s probably because of an Indo-European root [snu-] that imitated nose sounds. Some nose words using the initial sn- include

• snarf
• snarl
• sneer
• sneeze
• snicker/snigger
• snide
• sniff/sniffle
• snifter
• snitch
• snivel
• snoot
• snore
• snort
• snot
• snub
• snuff
• snuffle

Now available from McFarland & Co.: Word Parts Dictionary, 2nd edition

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