• bully •
Pronunciation: bU-li • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective, Noun, Interjection
Meaning: 1. (Adjective) Excellent, splendid, as 'a bully dinner', 'a bully job of cleaning'. 2. (Interjection) Used to express strong approval. "Bully for you!" is the equivalent of "Excellent!" or "Splendid!" 3. (Noun) A person who is cruel and overbearing, especially to smaller, weaker people.
Notes: Bully is a word-of-all-trades; it may be used as an adjective, noun, verb, and interjection. We can use this word as a verb, too, in the nominal sense (2 above): 'to bully someone'.
In Play: Teddy Roosevelt called the presidency a "bully pulpit", meaning it was a position that comes with an enormous yet friendly congregation (audience). The current occupant of that position seems to think Roosevelt was using bully in the nominal rather than the adjectival sense. Bully is a bit outdated, but not obsolete. So we can say things like: "We had a bully good time on our cruise to Bermuda."
Word History: Bully originally meant "sweetheart", a term of endearment applied to either sex. No one is sure of where it came from, but it probably originated in Dutch boel "lover; lots of", which probably is a diminutive of Middle Dutch broeder "brother". A parallel shift took place in Middle High German, where buole "brother" became Modern German Buhle "lover". In Scotland billie means "brother" or "fellow". Anyway, bully-boy originally referred to an excellent man (a sweetheart of a guy), who was brave and stood his ground amid controversy. Slowly this meaning meandered to "tough guy", and from there to "bully". The only structural change necessary was dropping the boy, and there we have the nominal meaning of today. (George Kovac of the grand state of Florida, a long-time participant in the Agora, recommended today's bully Good Word.)