Wordwatch Towers

A plain language guide to punctuation, grammar and writing well.

Flounder or founder?

with 4 comments

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Look at this headline on the NASDAQ website:

Taco Bell’s Drive Thru Diet May Have Floundered

That should probably be ‘foundered’, which generally means to ‘fail or come to nothing’.

I say ‘probably’ because the words ‘founder’ and ‘flounder’ can sometimes be tricky to pin down. ‘Flounder’ can mean, among other things, to be in serious difficulty. So it would be possible to say:

The business is floundering.

However, I don’t think the NASDAQ headline wants to suggest that Taco Bell’s diet may have been in serious difficulty at some unspecified time in the past. I think the suggestion is that the new menu has failed — and so ‘foundered’ would be correct.

Interestingly, some believe that ‘flounder’ which first appeared in the late sixteenth century, may be a combination of ‘founder’ and ‘blunder’.

Commonly confused words and phrases



4 Responses

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  1. I’ve heard this one used a lot. The Taco Bell reference looks like a mistake, but sometimes “floundered” gets used as if it were a fish out of water (flounder) metaphor.

    Invisible Mikey

    23/05/2010 at 4:17 pm

    • Hi, Mikey — yes, it’s interesting. One meaning of ‘flounder’ is to ‘struggle or stagger in mud or water’ (not actually out of it). I too think the Taco Bell reference is more likely than not a mistake.


      23/05/2010 at 4:28 pm

  2. You’re right, Deborah – the Taco Bell thing is just plain wrong – people do tend to flounder in confusion.

    In a different context, flounder (fish), have magically become sole in some places, dramatically increasing their perceived value http://ronsrants.wordpress.com/2010/04/25/the-great-fish-rip-off-and-other-food-musings/

    Yep, I’m not afraid of shameless self-promotion either…


    17/06/2010 at 6:10 pm

    • You are welcome to shamelessly self-promote here. All kinds of fishy things go on with fish, so I’ve heard. Especially involving restaurants and sauce à la déguisement.


      17/06/2010 at 6:22 pm

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