Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A Horse is a Horse (of course, of course !)

Flounce-“To struggle like a horse in mire” p. 705  Webster’s New Universal Unabridged dictionary



The late Justice Felix Frankfurter often used the term ‘quagmire” in his opinions, the best known being a dissent in Baker v. Carr, the one man, one vote case. So often did he use the term that when once asked to define a quagmire he replied, “I’m not sure what one is, but I know that I don’t want to get caught up in one.”   In its truest sense, a quagmire is no more than miry ground. I can’t tell, from what I have read, that a quagmire is any worse than your garden variety mire and so I’m not sure that the word has any usefulness at all. In the sense that Frankfurter like to use it however, it meant being placed in a difficult position, “as one sinking in the mire”. Again, Frankfurter could have said that he did not want to be caught up in mire, or as we often say, “get mired down”. But Frankfurter liked the word quagmire, and so there we are.


I bring this up because I read a blog recently which had the title “to flounce or not to flounce”. I was not sure of the exact definition of flounce and so I researched it. It was one of those words where, if I saw someone actually flounce, that is if a person were flouncing, or “flouncing around”, I think that I would recognize the activity and label it properly. “Wow” I’d say, “look at old Joe over there flouncing around” and I think that no one would say, “No, that’s not a true flounce, he’s just kind of wiggling.”In order for a human to flounce, he/she has to “swing, turn or jerk” with a “violent effort”. I am pretty sure that arms have to be flying (and not, say akimbo) in order for a movement to be a true flounce.


The interesting thing about flounce is that it apparently came from a term which was used for when a horse got caught up in the mire (or as Frankfurter would  have said, “quagmire”)and was struggling. It is unclear to me if the word referred to the normal slow going which any horse would experience when running through mud, or if it referred to a horse truly straining for life and limb as it went down in “quicksand”, i.e. a death struggle. I tend to think  that it was the former. “I was out on old Bobtail last night and we were making good time until he had to flounce through the mire. That slowed us down considerably.”

That really makes more sense than say, “I came upon old Bobtail last night flouncing around in the mire, within ten minutes he went under, poor thing.”


And yet what argues against my assumption is that it makes no sense for there to be a different term which means being slowed down in the mire, as opposed to being  slowed down through an act of struggling through anything else. If the word simply meant “slowed down by struggling”, we would say that “Old Bobtail was flounced (or was flouncing) by having to cut through a thick patch of woods, off the trail.”or, “because he was loaded down by a 400 pound cowboy”. But we know that that is not what flounce means. You have to have some mire to create a flounce, at least a horse does. I am, however, sure, that despite what Webster’s says, a horse can flounce not just through mire, but through quagmire, bog, swamps, wetlands, lagoons and probably even deep mud. Perhaps even a racehorse flounces when the track is very wet and muddy. I have never heard that, “Here comes Secretariat, flouncing down the stretch”, but I suppose that it is a term which might be used at a racetrack.


Now here you are, caught up in a quagmire of quite a different sort. No flouncing necessary, just hit that big  x  in the upper right portion of your screen.


Blogger Jannie said...

The time to hesitate is through, no time to wallow in the mire...

I NEVER KNEW that about flounce. You certainly are one Inquiring Mind, arent you?

You must be on hell of a lawyer!

1:27 PM  

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