Printable Version
Pronunciation: bêlk Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun, mass

Meaning: 1. Mass or volume, as the massive bulk of an elephant. 2. The greater part, as the bulk of someone's wealth. 3. Cargo on a ship, wholesale quantity, as to buy in bulk. 4. Fiber, the indigestible part of food.

Notes: Today's word has a healthy family as the result of its long, complicated history (for which see below). The adjective, bulky, means "awkwardly large". A bulkhead, however, is a waterproof divider on a ship, such as would be on either side of the 'bulk' (cargo) in the hold. Used as a verb, this word means "grow in bulk", as to bulk up before football season.

In Play: The bulk of the usage of today's Good Word centers around its first meaning: "By the time Ford Driver had saved up enough money to buy an expensive Italian car, he had built up more bulk than he could squeeze through the door of one." However, you will encounter the second meaning of this word almost as often: "The bulk of Ford's weight was distributed toward the area where he sat."

Word History: Today's Good Word seems to have devolved from Old Norse bulki "cargo, heap" but was confused with Middle English bouk "belly" (cousin of German Bauch and Dutch buik "belly"). Why? Well, people back then often carried a heap of cargo around their midsections, no doubt the reason their compatriots took to referring to them as bulky. Be that as it may (or may not), bulk came to us from a PIE root that also went into the making of English bowl, ball and bold. In Latin the same root turned up in follis "bellows, windbag". This latter sense took on the same second meaning that it has in English today, so it is easy to see how follis became fool when English borrowed it. (We thank Doug Schulek-Miller for suggesting today's Good Word, and hope that he will send the bulk of any other good ideas like this one to us.)

Dr. Goodword,

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