Q: Like the old song title, I’m a Dedicated Follower of Fashion. So this headline caught my attention: “J. Crew Flounders in Fashion’s Shifting Tides.” It was in the New York Times business section. I wondered about the word “flounders,” since I’ve seen it spelled “founders” when referring to ships that sink. Flounder or founder: are they interchangeable?

A: You’re right about the word “founders” and its connection to ships. But “founder” and “flounder” are not interchangeable as verbs. To flounder is to struggle, move about with difficulty or make mistakes, generally in an ongoing way. One can flounder in water, as in the Times’ overwrought metaphor, but also on land or in other circumstances as well. Example: “In over his head, he floundered while drafting the master plan.”

To founder, on the other hand, means to fail completely, cave in or sink like a stone. It’s often used to describe ships that sank, leaders that failed or sports teams that went down the tubes. The Sixers, for example, have foundered the last two seasons, and the Phillies seem destined to founder now.

So what’s going on at J. Crew? The retailer is floundering because it has been slow to recognize that lower priced chains are selling similar styles for far less. For details, click here.

That’s floundering, not foundering … at least for now.

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