You Don't Say John E. McIntyre writes about language, usage, journalism & arbitrarily chosen subjects.

Hold your fire

The Baltimore Sun

A McClatchy dispatch on President Donald Trump’s attack on Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California includes this sentence: “The consensus-minded senator has drawn flack from progressives in California for not taking a tough enough stand against the president in the past.”

No.

A flack is a spokesperson, representative, press agent, publicist, or some such person employed in public relations. It is traditionally a pejorative term, like stooge or mouthpiece. American Heritage conjectures that the eponymous Gene Flack, a movie press agent of the 1920s and 1930s, may be the source of the word.

The word the writer was reaching for, and in which effort the editor was no help, is flak.

English got flak from German, a shortened version of Fliegerabwehrkanone, antiaircraft artillery, and also the bursting shells such artillery fires. It has taken on the metaphoric sense of “excessive or abusive criticism,” as if the disparagements leveled at you were like sharp fragments of metal hurtling through the air toward you at great velocity.

The two words are homophones but otherwise unrelated.

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