When I pour milk from a box into a bowl, I keep the distance between the box and the bowl far enough away that tiny bits of milk shoot out of the bowl.

These tiny bits of milk are very small and that is why they move very fast out of the bowl.

Is it natural to say "Some milk flicked out of the bowl"?

I am not sure if I can say "Some milk spilled out of the bowl". I think "spill" is too strong and often refers to a larger amount of liquid coming out.

  • 1
    We would say drops of liquid, not bits. Commented Jul 15, 2022 at 7:09

3 Answers 3


“Flick” is a transitive verb. Something flicks something else: the cat flicks her tail; the bully flicked my ear.

A bit of milk “splashed” out of the bowl.

  • But "flick" is also an intransitive verb as in "The snake's tongue flicked out."
    – Tom
    Commented Jul 15, 2022 at 4:36
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    "splash" is certainly the right word. Commented Jul 15, 2022 at 4:43
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    @Tom Not everyone would agree with that usage (I'd prefer "The snake flicked its tongue out"), but even if they did, you can't necessarily compare a phrasal verb's argument structure to a non-phrasal one's. Commented Jul 15, 2022 at 4:48

Some drops of milk splashed out of the bowl.

Spill usually implies that the container of liquid is tilted or moved too quickly, so that some of the contents accidentally pours out.


There are at least two competing issues here.

Let's leave aside the question of transivity. What I think people are intuiting is that our normal experience of flick suggests that a conscious agent is behind the action.

The mother flicked her son's earlobe.
The girl flicked through the pages of a book.

These usages are common. What unites them is the sense that the mother and the girl are each responsible for the movement.

So the idea of milk flicking itself is unfamiliar.

That said, I think its meaning is immediately understandable. And if I encountered the usage in a novel by a well-known author such as John Updike, it would neither confuse nor surprise me. If I noticed it at all, I might think, "That's clever."

On a more pragmatic note, however, if you were to say this sort of thing with a foreign accent, your audience might be hyper-alert to the unfamiliarity of the usage. So I advise proceeding with caution.

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