Printable Version
Pronunciation: bo-lês Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. A wad or gob of chewed food in the mouth or swallowed. 2. A glob, any round mass. 3. A dose of some drug, as a (large) pill or spoonful.

Notes: Bolus is a word that has been hiding in the medical vocabulary too long. It has already begun to emerge into the general vocabulary, mostly in some figurative sense (see In Play). It looks so much like a Latin word that it hasn't procreated in English.

In Play: In medicine this word is used both in its original sense and its most recent (No. 3 above): "Algernon was choking on a bolus of Bettina's roast beef, but Cedric applied the Heimlich maneuver and saved his life." However, this word is creeping out of its medical lock-up and into the general vocabulary in a figurative sense: "'I can do it,' I said, swallowing a large bolus of fear that I might be wrong."

Word History: Bolus is a Medieval Latin word borrowed from Greek bōlos "clod, lump of earth". Greek inherited the word from PIE bol- "tuber, bulb", source also of Armenian bołk "radishes". It mostly occurs with a reduplicated B referring to a swelling of some sort: Greek bolbos "onion", Latin bulbus "onion", from which English obtained its bulb. (A big bolus of gratitude is owed George Kovac, our constant friend from Miami, Florida, for spotting the fascination in today's Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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