Flesh Out or Flush Out: What’s the Difference?

Here we have two popular phrases that get confused with each other every now and then, mostly among speakers. But, anticipating that this confusion might someday make its way into people’s writing, I want to take the time to write a preemptive post discussing this phrase.

So, how does the phrase go? Is it flesh out or flush out? And what is being fleshed out or flushed out? Well, it’s not that one choice is incorrect and the other is correct, they are just two different phrases with different meanings.

In this post, I want to talk about these phrases, their meanings, and how to use them in a sentence. At the end, I will also give you a trick to remember the difference.

After reading this post, you won’t ever mix up flesh out vs. flush out again.

What Does it Mean to Flesh Out?

Fleshed out vs flushed out correctThe phrase to flesh out means to put flesh on bare bones. When taken literally, this phrase can be a bit graphic, but it’s usually used in a figurative sense to indicate the further development of a project or idea.

  • It will be interesting to watch Mrs. Clinton flesh out her ideas. –New York Times
  • He utilized his band to help him flesh out the songs in the studio, whereas on his first album, he mainly recorded all the parts. –Wall Street Journal
  • He said the department can also try to recoup money to cover the borrower claims, and plans to flesh out the details through the rule-making process. –Washington Post

If you are working on a school project that is still in its infancy, you might need to flesh out some of the details. In other words, you need to work through the details and give them some “flesh,” some “meat,” some “substance.” You need to put some meat on the bones of your project.

You get the idea.

What Does it Mean to Flush Out?

Flushed out versus fleshed out definitionsThe phrase to flush out means to bring someone out in the open for examination.

It is commonly used in discussions of police investigations and wartime strategies.

  • The Prime Minister unveiled proposals to unmask the owners of British properties bought through foreign companies in order to flush out criminals. –Telegraph
  • Chad has sent thousands of soldiers and police to install checkpoints and patrol the area, but it is a challenge to flush out the militants, says Brahim. –Newsweek

The metaphor originates from bird hunting, where it is common to use a hunting dog to shoo out birds from hiding. The dog flushes out the bird into the open.

Remember the Difference

Flushed out or fleshed out grammar rulesAs I said above, both to flesh out and to flush out are their own phrases with different meanings. It’s not as if one is right and one is wrong. They just mean different things, and here’s how you can keep track of flush out vs. flesh out.

To flesh out is to put flesh, or meat, on bare bones. Imagine a bare skeleton that a sculptor adds clay flesh to build out. So when you think of this phrase, think of bare bones and flesh.

To flush out is to bring something out in the open. Imagine something clogging a pipe in your kitchen but it being flushed out in to the open.

Summary

So is it flush out or flesh out? As usual, it depends on the context of your sentence.

To flesh out is to add substance to an idea, project, theory, etc.

To flush out is to bring something out into the open for examination.