Flair - flare

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These homophones are sometimes confused. Good academic writers keep them separate, though their meanings are not very far apart - at least figuratively.

  • In current English, flair is 'a special aptitude or ability'; or 'a liking, taste or enthusiasm' for something (OED): 'Their son has a flair for the piano'; 'My student has a flair for statistics'.
  • Flare exists both as noun and as verb. The basic meaning is 'sudden increase', originally in light. So we have a 'flare-up', of a fire or, figuratively, of someone's anger. A solar flare is a sudden increase in the activity of the sun, which may be seen through appropriate telescopes to produce great jets of gas coming from its surface. Sailors carry flares as signals that they are in danger; soldiers may use them to illuminate battlefields at night.

In a more figurative sense, flare means to 'spread out'. A horse breathing hard can flare its nostrils - as indeed can a human, to convey certain emotions, like anger. A woman's hair can flare out in wind, as a dress can on the dance floor. Flared trousers are those which are wider at the ankle than they are at the knee.