Here's why a ship can 'flounder' even though ships usually 'founder'

“The ship floundered in rough seas and eventually sank.”

“The ship floundered in the swells off of the Outer Banks for a while before breaking apart.”

“When a cargo ship floundered on the shore, it was often considered providence.”

When I searched Google recently for wrong uses of the verb “flounder,” I found a lot of flubs. Or did I? On second glance, I’m not sure any of the errors I caught by searching the term “ship floundered” were actually errors. On the contrary, the error may have been mine for believing the grammar scolds who complain that almost no one uses “founder” and “flounder” correctly.

“People commonly confuse ‘flounder’ and ‘founder’ because they sound similar and have similar spellings,” one blogger warns. “The words ‘flounder’ and ‘founder’ are easily confused,” says another. And there are lots more where these two came from. For the most part, these online language commenters are right: The verbs “flounder” and “founder” are easy to confuse. But what’s remarkable is that, at least in a nautical context, you’re likely to get them right even if you’re confused.

I explain why in my recent column.

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