Flesh Out vs. Flush Out — Either way it’s disgusting

Recent conversation with co-worker:

Me: This has been a great brainstorming. I’m going to go back to my desk and flush out some of these ideas.

She: Sounds good. Wait. Did you just say ‘flush out’….that always makes me think of a toilet. Ewww…I’m pretty sure you meant ‘flesh out’.

Me: ‘Flesh out’? No. I don’t think so. That makes me think of a deer carcass that someone is skinning. I’ll take the toilet image over mangling Bambi any day.

So what’s the correct answer?

Here, here, here, here, here and here say that the correct idiomatic expression for “adding details to an idea” is….drum roll….flesh out. Looks like I was wrong on this one. (groan.)

But wait!

Here, here, and  here, indicate that flush out means to “bring something that is hidden to the surface” (search this term on Google and you’ll find all sorts of strange references from hunting to earwax.)


Here’s some rationale for using “flush out” for specific writing tasks (because I simply can’t concede that I’m wrong):

As a copywriter, my job is to go through a big thick creative brief, brainstorm 50+ ideas, and then bring the best parts to the surface so the message is no longer hidden among the rest of the unecessary details. Therefore, I “flush out” the concept.

Totally up for debate. What do you think?

11 thoughts on “Flesh Out vs. Flush Out — Either way it’s disgusting

  1. There’s also a surgical connotation… “We need to flush-out that sucking chest wound.” Maybe we should just flush the term entirely and come up with something a little more appealing.

    I’ll have to think about that… hammer-out, tweak, fine-tune. None of those really work. Got any ideas?

  2. My take on this is to flesh-out would be to take the bones of the concept and add creative context, while to flush-out (as Andrea pointed out) would be to distill a larger, complex brief down to manageable pieces for public consumption. One is expanding, the other contracting…

  3. Part of me wants to continue to say “flush out” if merely for the controversy.

  4. Hi,
    I teach English and I am sorry to say that flesh out wins. I can’t get over how you refuse to back down and now you are trying to reinvent the phrase by explaining what flush out means – as if there is an idion for “flush out”. Pitiful!! Give it up. Flesh out means just that – you add “flesh” to a bare bones idea. However, I admire your hutzpah.

  5. @Joan Dahlen— You’re an English teacher and you don’t know where punctuation goes (inside the quotes) and that the word is idiom, not idion.

    Standing in glass houses throwing stones and all that.

    • Placement of punctuation relative to quotation marks is conventional. The usual arbitrary US convention–“low” marks (,.) inside the qm, “high” marks (?!) outside the qm–apparently was set by the typesetters because it allegedly looks nicer. I, like Joan Dahlen, prefer the British convention, which is to place the punctuation according to sense. If it is part of the quoted material, the comma or the question mark, etc., goes inside. If it is part of the sentence, the punctuation goes outside the qm.

      Both “flesh out” and “flush out” are old idioms, but they do not mean the same thing and ought not be confused when used metaphorically.

      • Her punctuation may be correct, but her attitude stinks. Joan, consider a revision in your general disposition toward strangers.

  6. The idiom you meant is definitely “flesh out”.

    “Flush out” is definitely better but you should change your sentence if you’re going to use it. This way you will be using an idiom but doing it in a fresh way.

    From now on, say, “I’m going to take these ideas to my desk and flush out some good ones.”

  7. Hmmm, my vote would be:
    Flesh out = add to (add flesh to skeleton)
    Flush out = scare/chase/smoke out the hidden thing(s) from their hiding place

    Either works where ideas are involved. Sometimes they need more meat, sometimes they’re hiding and need to be made to reveal themselves.
    Will the real idea please stand up.

  8. To “flesh out” an idea is to give it substance, as a sculptor adds clay flesh to a skeletal armature. To “flush out” a criminal is to drive him or her out into the open. The latter term is derived from bird-hunting, in which one flushes out a covey of quail. If you are trying to develop something further, use “flesh”; but if you are trying to reveal something hitherto concealed, use “flush.”

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