Flesh Out and Flush Out

Commonly Confused Words

When composing an essay, try to flesh out (not flush out) your main ideas with specific details. (PeopleImages.com/Getty Images)

The phrasal verbs flesh out and flush out sound similar, but their meanings are quite different.

Definitions

To flesh out something (like a plan or an idea) is to expand it, give it substance, or provide a more detailed explanation.

To flush out means to force someone or something out of hiding or to clean something (usually by forcing water through a container).

Also see the usage notes below.


Examples

  • The president promised to flesh out the details of his troop withdrawal plan.
     
  • "A business built on slave help may not seem like a selling point, which may explain why Jack Daniel’s is taking things slowly. The Green story is an optional part of the distillery tour, left to the tour guide’s discretion, and the company is still considering whether it will flesh out the story in new displays at its visitors center."
    (Clay Risen, "Jack Daniel's Embraces a Hidden Ingredient: Help From a Slave." The New York Times, June 25, 2016)
     
  • In Britain, hunting clubs still use dogs to flush out foxes from wooded areas. 
     
  • "Suddenly, Clevelanders are a much brighter bunch to be around. The notorious 'quarterbacks jersey,' which includes the 24 names of every single Browns QB since 1999, has been retired by its owner Tim Brokaw, as he and fellow fans seek to flush out 'all negative energy and bad juju' around town."
    (David Lengel, "Cleveland's Hangover Cure? An Indians World Series Title." The Guardian, June 23, 2016)
     

    Usage Notes

    • "If you are trying to develop something further, use flesh; but if you are trying to reveal something hitherto concealed, use flush."
      (Paul Brians, Common Errors in English Usage. William, James & Co., 2003)
       
    • "To flesh out is to put flesh on bare bones — that is, to move beyond the merest rudiments and to elaborate; to add some nuance and detail. To flush out (probably a hunting metaphor) is to bring something into the open light for examination."
      (Bryan Garner, Garner's Modern English Usage, 4th ed. Oxford University Press, 2016)


      Idiom Alert

      The expression put flesh on the bones of (something) means to amplify, augment, expand, or give greater substance to something.
      - “Qualitative data can put flesh on the bones of quantitative results, bringing the results to life through in depth case elaboration.”
      (M.Q. Patton, Qualitative Evaluation and Research Methods, 1990)

      - "Hannah can vividly recall Baldersdale in its finest days, as a place where the full theatre of live was played out. She can even recall the minutiae which put flesh on the bones of memory — speech mannerisms, individual eccentricities and habits, clothing, names (even nicknames), hairstyles ... everything."
      (Hannah Hauxwell with Barry Cockcroft, Seasons of My Life, 2012) 

      Practice

      (a) Gus tried to _____ out his novel with incidents borrowed from other writers.

      (b) An undercover operation may be the best way to _____ out would-be terrorists.

      Answers to Practice Exercises: Flesh Out and Flush Out

      (a) Gus tried to flesh out his novel with incidents borrowed from other writers.

      (b) An undercover operation may be the best way to flush out would-be terrorists.

      Also see: Glossary of Usage: Index of Commonly Confused Words

      Answers to Practice Exercises: Flesh Out and Flush Out

      (a) Gus tried to flesh out his novel with incidents borrowed from other writers.

      (b) An undercover operation may be the best way to flush out would-be terrorists.

      Glossary of Usage: Index of Commonly Confused Words

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      Your Citation
      Nordquist, Richard. "Flesh Out and Flush Out." ThoughtCo, Oct. 8, 2017, thoughtco.com/flesh-out-and-flush-out-1689392. Nordquist, Richard. (2017, October 8). Flesh Out and Flush Out. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/flesh-out-and-flush-out-1689392 Nordquist, Richard. "Flesh Out and Flush Out." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/flesh-out-and-flush-out-1689392 (accessed January 18, 2018).