grammarReferees and umpires call them; athletes deny them; politicos charge them: flagrant violations or infractions of the rules. These are the offenses that are obvious even to the armchair spectator. They are disgraceful, monstrous, immoral. They are glaring—meaning they shine in the harsh light to which they are exposed—an appropriate synonym since the original meaning of the Latin flagrāre was to burn, blaze.

The sense of the Latin root, flaming or flaring, suggests an evil of such magnitude that it cannot be ignored. Think of the atrocities and injustices perpetrated by the likes of a Hitler, Stalin, Idi Amin, and Pol Pot and you have a sampling of leaders whose crimes against their people were a flagrant abuse of power.

The Latin phrase, in flagrante delicto, is a legal term that means the violator has been caught in the act of committing a crime. An English equivalent would be “caught red handed”, or caught in the act. It can be used as a euphemism for someone caught in a sexual transgression.

The Oxford English dictionary notes that the Latin verbs flagrare (flagrant) and fragrare (fragrance) were often confused. A confusion that continues to plague some writers. In its November 14, 1997 edition, the Augusta Chronicle included this statement, “U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and United Nations Ambassador Bill Richardson huff and puff in one breath that Iran’s Saddam Hussein will not get away with fragrantly violating the United Nations.” Hussein’s actions did strink, but to call them fragrant, that’s a flagrant abuse of the English langugage.

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