Founder - flounder

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It is not unknown for students - and their elders - to confuse two superficially similar words, either by typing mistakes or out of ignorance and carelessness. Be warned, and do not make this mistake yourself - for either of these reasons. The two, although not etymologically connected, share certain pejorative connotations.

Both founder and flounder may be nouns or verbs.

  • As nouns:
    • a flounder is one of a number of species of salt-water flat-fish; the one usually meant in Britain is Platichthys flesus. They are distinguished by lying on one side on the bottom, having had both eyes migrate during their lives to the other side.
      • In some dialects, the name flounder is used for what in more formal English is called a [liver-]fluke, parasitic worms of which thousands of species exist in the clade trematoda. The commonest in the UK is Fasciola hepatica, well-known as a pest in sheep, and capable of infesting humans. Oddly, the flatfish (Paralichthys dentatus, found in the north-west Atlantic) can also be called a 'fluke' - it is, in fact, the older meaning, being Old English in origin. The coincidence in naming is because both species, though on different scales, are flat; the liver-fluke is described as 'leaf-shaped'.
    • a founder (with no '-l-') is 'a person who founds [~ begins] something' - for more , see Founder.
  • As verbs:
    • 'to flounder' is
      • literally 'to stumble, or struggle through an entanglement, [marsh, bramble bushes, thickets]';
      • figuratively, a speaker who loses control of an argument, or becomes confused in the case presented, can be said to be floundering. The COBUILD Wordbank has this quotation: "Finding it unbearable to admit this, Blair floundered wildly and mentioned everything he knew about drugs and the NHS and other acronyms" about a politician not sure what to say. A sports team completely out-played by its opponents may be said 'to flounder in their wake'.
    • 'to founder' is essentially to go down, or sink, completely. It was used of horses that stumbled or collapsed, often from exhaustion; of ships, it meant to go to the bottom [of the sea], being filled with water
Maybe because both these verbs denote aspects of failure; both are used figuratively in a political sense; and both have connotations of the sea, they are quite often confused.
This difference does not matter hugely most of the time; but good academic writers should use the precise one intended.