Sometimes, you’ve just got to go with the flow, unless you’re riding along on an iceberg. Then, perhaps, it’s time to reconsider—your spelling among other things.
Actually, an “iceberg” is a bit misleading. When we’re talking about an “ice floe,” we’re not talking about giant mountains of ice.
- “Flow” can be a verb, meaning to move along—commonly in water—or to progress smoothly, among a few other definitions. As a noun, “flow” references that moving along or smooth progress, though it’s also picked up another meaning referencing your state of mind. “Flow state” is known as “being in the zone.” No matter which way you define it, “flow” has the same etymology as the words “flood” and “float.” It first appeared in the 12th century, coming from the Old English word flōwan, which held the same meaning, as related to moving water.
- “Floe” refers to a large sheet of floating ice. If an iceberg is a floating mountain, then the ice floe is a floating plain. It has the same origin as the word “flake.” Both seem to come from the Norwegian word flo, meaning “flat layer.” Floe didn’t appear in English until the early 1800s, so it’s a baby word for all intents and purposes.
- “Flo,” of course, is a nickname for “Florence,” a female name that stems from the Latin word florens, meaning “to blossom.” I’ve never heard of a city called Florence that’s abbreviated as “Flo,” but I won’t rule out that possibility.
Long story short, “Flo” and “floe” have little to do with each other. There aren’t many blossoms on a sheet of ice—though a floe might just flow along in the Arctic waters. As for “Flo” and “flow,” who knows? Maybe you know a Flo who’s really good at getting into her flow state. Maybe she’s great at “going with the flow.” (That’s actually a newborn expression if you’re curious. It came to be in the late 1900s.)
This “Flow” vs. “Floe” discussion is not to be confused with “flew” vs. “flu” vs. “flue,” and it is making me think a bit about the difference between “bitter cold” vs. “bitterly cold”—but we’ll leave those explorations for another day.
Happy writing, all!
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