• bombast •
bahm-bæst • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun, mass (no plural)
Meaning: 1. (Obsolete) Cotton padding, cotton fluff. 2.Grandiose, pompous language.
Notes: Here is a word we might all use these days in America. Political bombast is running amuck here. The adjective is bombastic, and the adverb, bombastically. Today's word, of course, is related to bombazine, an erstwhile silk, but more recently cotton fabric.
In Play: Today's Good Word has lost its reference to cotton and now refers purely to spoken or written language: "I've never before heard such sententious bombast I heard at the rally of Phineas P. Foghorn today." That is the only meaning it has today: "Could you find a plan among all the bombast of the president's speech today?"
Word History: In the 1560 today's word still meant "cotton padding", corrupted from earlier bombace (1550s). It came from Old French bombace "cotton, cotton wadding", inherited from Late Latin bombax "cotton". This word apparently is a corruption of Classical Latin bombyx "silk", borrowed from Greek bombyx "silk, silkworm". Greek borrowed the word from some oriental word, probably Iranian pambak. The semantics of today's word slid from stuffing and padding for clothes or upholstery to stuffed speech and writing already in the 1580s.
This word followed the spread of cotton throughout the world. Swedish bomull and Danish bomuld "cotton" are from the same source. Modern Greek mpampaki, Rumanian bumbac, and Serbo-Croatian pamuk were all borrowed from the Turkish pamuk "cotton". German baumwolle "cotton" (literally "tree-wool") is probably a reduction of the Latin word, altered by folk-etymology. (Let's now offer an unbombastic note of gratitude to Jackie Strauss, the contributor of today's Good Word with the surprising history.)
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