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verb (used without object)
  1. to struggle with stumbling or plunging movements (usually followed by about, along, on, through, etc.): He saw the child floundering about in the water.
  2. to struggle clumsily or helplessly: He floundered helplessly on the first day of his new job.

Origin of flounder

1570–80; perhaps blend of flounce1 and founder2
Related formsfloun·der·ing·ly, adverbun·floun·der·ing, adjective

Synonyms for flounder

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Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for floundering

Contemporary Examples of floundering

Historical Examples of floundering

  • Can't you see you're all just floundering in a perfect swamp of ignorance?

    The Harbor

    Ernest Poole

  • The moment I begin to think about that sort of thing I feel that I am floundering.

    His Masterpiece

    Emile Zola

  • He descended the path to the cove, floundering through the wet bushes.

    The Woman-Haters

    Joseph C. Lincoln

  • Every one of these had to come back after floundering in the mountains for weeks.

  • Now God be praised that there is a chance of fighting rather than floundering!

    Standish of Standish

    Jane G. Austin

British Dictionary definitions for floundering


verb (intr)
  1. to struggle; to move with difficulty, as in mud
  2. to behave awkwardly; make mistakes
  1. the act of floundering

Word Origin for flounder

C16: probably a blend of founder ² + blunder; perhaps influenced by flounder ²


Flounder is sometimes wrongly used where founder is meant: the project foundered (not floundered) because of a lack of funds


noun plural -der or -ders
  1. Also called: fluke a European flatfish, Platichthys flesus having a greyish-brown body covered with prickly scales: family Pleuronectidae : an important food fish
  2. US and Canadian any flatfish of the families Bothidae (turbot, etc) and Pleuronectidae (plaice, halibut, sand dab, etc)

Word Origin for flounder

C14: probably of Scandinavian origin; compare Old Norse flythra, Norwegian flundra
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for floundering



1590s, perhaps an alteration of founder (q.v.), influenced by Dutch flodderen "to flop about," or native verbs in fl- expressing clumsy motion. Figurative use is from 1680s. Related: Floundered; floundering. As a noun derived from this sense, from 1867.



flatfish, c.1300, from Anglo-French floundre, from Old North French flondre, from Old Norse flydhra; related to Middle Low German vlundere, Danish flynder; ultimately cognate with Greek platys "flat, wide, broad" (see plaice (n.)).

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper