When your editor-in-chief is ripping you a new one, are you getting flack or flak? What about when your B-52 bomber is being fired upon from the ground?
I thought this would be a simple enough distinction, but as soon as I started doing the research for this post, I found that there’s more to it than just flack vs flak. So light a candle, pour yourself a glass of wine, and settle in for this month’s sexy wordplay!
I’d always heard that flack is criticism and flak is anti-aircraft fire.
As it turns out, flak with a K is the correct form of both words.
Flak is a German word that is shortened from Fliegerabwehrkanonen (flyer defense cannons). You don’t even need to be very familiar with German to recognize cognates like flieger and kanonen. And because flak is a form of opposition, it also refers to criticism.
Now, if you want to use flack when referring to criticism, I really can’t stop you. Just know that you’re technically wrong.
But if you want to use flack correctly, it only has one definition: one who provides publicity, i.e. a press agent.
Go forth, my children, and spell things properly!