Printable Version
Pronunciation: fUl-sêm Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: 1. Offensive, foul, repulsive, in bad taste. 2. Plump, tubby, overly zaftig, as a fulsome figure. 3. Lavish, copious, plentiful, particularly abundant, as to serve a fulsome meal.

Notes: The suffix -some on the stem ful(l) has given this word some rather specific meanings, as we see above; we should keep a close ear on how we use them. Today, the pejorative senses overshadow the positive ones. The adverb is fulsomely and the noun, fulsomeness, much as we would expect.

In Play: When we use this word in its positive sense today, the context should make its meaning clear: "We enjoy a fulsome farmer's market in Lewisburg and in the fall it is especially copious." The dominant sense of this word today is very pejorative: "The creek was so fulsome with the sewage from the surrounding houses that residents were afraid to set foot in it."

Word History: It would seem that today's Good Word is the result of adding the suffix -some (winsome, awesome, loathsome) to the adjective full. More probably, however, Old English contained a word fulsome based on the ancestor of foul (Old English ful), a word that was never written or was written and lost. The two words fulsome then merged, since they would have been written and pronounced the same way in Middle English. (Today we owe fulsome gratitude, in the positive sense of the adjective, to Mark Bailey for bringing this truly Germanic word to our attention.)

Dr. Goodword,

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