Struggle and sink

October 30, 2012|By John E. McIntyre | The Baltimore Sun

Back in business today* with a fresh inquiry from a reader: When the replica of HMS Bounty went down in the storm yesterday, did it flounder and sink or founder and sink?

It did the latter.

To flounder is to struggle, as if to regain footing, or to move slowly and clumsily, as through mud or water. To founder is to fill with water and sink. Or, with a horse, to go lame, or, with livestock, to get sick from overeating.

Founder is the less common word; we are struggling clumsily a lot more frequently than we are sinking. So the confusion of flounder for founder is much more common than the reverse. Both Garner's Modern American Usage and Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage advise that the distinction between the two words should be observed.

Since founder means to fill with water and sink, founder and sink is a pleonasm, though MWDEU calls it an innocent one.

*Was called in to the paragraph factory yesterday. Pushed through an edition and crept home slowly along deserted streets despite the mayor's order forbidding non-emergency travel. Safely home, and, mirabile dictu, never lost power at the house. Thanks for your expressions of concern.

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