The Meaning of Flesh Out: What It Is and How To Use It

Have you ever wondered what the term flesh out means? This article will give you all of the information you need on the phrase flesh out, including its meaning, usage, synonyms, sentence examples, and more!

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What does flesh out mean?

According to Merriam-Webster Unabridged English Dictionary and other dictionary apps, the phrase flesh out, fleshed out, fleshing out, or fleshes out mean “to provide additional information about something” or “to clarify or complete something by adding more details.” One might tell someone that they need to flesh out an idea before presenting it in a meeting, or that the characters in a book are well fleshed out.

Vocabulary states that the phrase flesh out can also mean to fatten, make plump, or to become round or shapely. While this meaning is less common, it is still accurate. One could use this meaning of the phrase in terms of animals or humans. For example, one may say a cat is fleshing out when he reaches maturity. He loses his kitten-like slenderness, gains a rounder face, and more stout body. These different meanings are both accurate definitions.

According to Thought Co, the phrase flesh out is commonly confused with the phrase flush out. However, these do not have the same meaning. Flesh out means to expand upon or complete something, while flush out means to force someone or something out, or to clean something. Be careful – just because these words have a similar sound does not mean they have a similar meaning. Someone could flesh out a plan, but they would need to flush out negative energy. 

To remember the difference, think of a skeleton when thinking of the phrase “flesh out.” Imagine adding flesh to that skeleton, thus taking it from a skeleton to a literally fleshed-out human body. To remember the phrase flush out, think of a toilet flushing. It takes all of the water with it and one is left with an empty, clean bowl.

How can the phrase flesh out be used in a sentence?

The phrase flesh out can be used to refer to a great many things. This phrase can either be used to mean that someone is expanding upon or completing an idea or plan, or it can be used to mean someone is getting more plump or round. In this first example, the phrase flesh out will be used to mean expand upon. Here, Katie is presenting an idea to her boss that she wants to share with the rest of the group.

Katie: Could I pick your brain for a moment?

Boss: Of course.

Katie: I wanted to bring up the idea of appealing to a younger demographic through social media advertisements and accounts on sites like TikTok to the rest of the group. I think our product could really appeal to high school students. I know we’re currently targeting older professionals, but my little sister has been using our software and loves it. What do you think?

Boss: I think that’s a great idea. Flesh it out, come up with some more ideas, and bring it up to the rest of the group in the Wednesday marketing meeting next week.

Here, Katie’s boss likes her idea and tells her to flesh it out before presenting it to the group. In this next example, the phrase flesh out will be used to mean fatten, or get more plump. Here, Katie is hanging out with her little sister.

Katie: No way, is that Ryan? Like, little Ryan who used to live down the street?

Sister: Yeah, why?

Katie: He’s just fleshed out so much I barely recognized him.

What is the etymology of the phrase flesh out?

According to Vocabulary, the phrase is thought to have come from the idea of physically adding flesh onto a skeleton or frame to make it whole. Etymonline states that the word flesh comes from the Old English flæsc, which meant flesh or meat, or living creatures. This sense of the word is now obsolete outside of the phrase flesh and blood. The Old English flæsc comes from the Proto-Germanic flaiska- or fleiski– which are of uncertain origin, but originally meant a piece of meat that has been torn off.  

The adverb out comes from the Old English ut meaning out, or outside. This comes from a Proto-Germanic root. Using the word out to mean “completely” or “to a conclusion” has happened since the year 1300, according to Etymonline.

What are synonyms for the phrase flesh out?

There are many different words and phrases one can use in place of the phrase flesh out. These are called synonyms, which are words or phrases that have the same meaning or definition as another word or phrase. Someone might choose to use a synonym to avoid repeating themselves or to expand their current vocabulary. This list of synonyms and related words for the phrase flesh out is provided by Interglot Thesaurus.

  • plump out
  • fatten
  • fat
  • lucubrate
  • fatten up
  • expand
  • elucidate
  • exposit
  • expatiate
  • expound
  • clear up
  • exemplify
  • enlarge
  • fill out
  • exposit
  • dilate
  • plump
  • fatten out
  • elaborate
  • clarify
  • round out

Overall, the phrase flesh out can mean to expand upon a given idea, or to add details, or to clarify or elaborate on something. This phrase is often used in a figurative way to tell someone to expound upon an idea or plan. The phrase flesh out can also be used to mean to fatten or make plump, though this usage is less common. Flesh out should not be confused with the other common idiom flush out, which means to clean or drive out something.