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Flat, mortified

I’m just mulling over a use of the word ‘flat,’ and wondering where it comes from. Somewhere, possibly in a short story by Flannery O’Connor or Eudora Welty, a character says, more than once, “He flat do not care.”

I thought it could have something to do with ‘flat out,’ as in “I told him flat out that he could not let the dog up on the bed,” i.e., in no uncertain terms. But then how did that expression arise? I’m not sure this sort of speculation leads anywhere. It’s probably too opaque to do more than make guesses. People tend to think linguistics is all about word meaning, or meanings of expressions, and they ask you (if you are a linguist, which I can hardly call myself anymore) etymological questions. Word meaning shifts so easily that it’s not really valuable to try to trace it.

But I really love that quote- “He flat do not care.” It’s so definite.

I’ve been meaning to write about the shift in meaning of the word ‘mortified.’ I’ve heard my 20-year-old son use it to mean horrified rather than embarrassed. I think I’ve heard his friends use it that way too, and recently my walking buddy, who is in her 50s, did the same thing. Let me see. I need to make up an example, as I can’t remember a real one. “I was eating my lobster on the dock when a seagull flew down and stole it from me. I was mortified!”

So if you’re reading this, let me know if you use it this way or have heard it used this way. Just curious.

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