Word Wednesday.



1a: characterized by abundance: copious. b: generous in amount, extent, or spirit. c: being full and well developed.

2: aesthetically, morally, or generally offensive.

3: exceeding the bounds of good taste: overdone.

4: excessively complimentary or flattering: effusive.

– fulsomely, adverb.

– fulsomeness, noun.

Usage: The senses shown above are the chief living senses of fulsome. Sense 2, which was a generalized term of disparagement in the late 17th century, is the least common of these. Fulsome became a point of dispute when sense 1, thought to be obsolete in the 19th century, began to be revived in the 20th. The dispute was exacerbated by the fact that the large dictionaries of the first half of the century missed the beginnings of the revival. Sense 1 has not only been revived but has spread in its application and continues to do so. The chief danger for user of fulsome is ambiguity. Unless the context is made very clear, the reader or hearer cannot be sure whether such an expression as “fulsome praise” is meant in sense 1b or in sense 4.  [Merriam-Webster.]

[Origin: Middle English fulsom, copious, cloying, from full + –som -some.]

(13th century.)

“Glad to meet you, sir. I have heard your name mentioned in connection with that of your friend. You interest me very much, Mr. Holmes. I had hardly expected so dolichocephalic* a skull or such well-marked supra-orbital development. Would you have any objection to my running my finger along your parietal fissure? A cast of your skull, sir, until the original is available, would be an ornament to any anthropological museum. It is not my intention to be fulsome, but I confess that I covet your skull.” – The Hound of the Baskervilles, Arthur Conan Doyle.


adjective: having a relatively long head with a cephalic index of less than 75.

[Origin: New Latin dolichocephalus long-headed, from Greek dolichos long + – kephalos, from kephalē head.]



  1. Raucous Indignation says

    I once told a past lover in a warm post-coital embrace that she was, “a glorious fulsome woman.” Foolish me. She looked up the definition and decided that I had called her fat. A glorious fat woman, but definitely fat. And she was no such thing; she was fat in the same way Jessica Rabbit was fat, i.e. not at all. I meant it in the good sort of 1a though 1c senses. Alas, no amount of explaining, erudite or not, nor pleading, desperate or not, did much to allay her feelings. I desperately tried to explain. I actually made things worse -- shocking, I know -- by making her feel fat AND then stupid for not knowing the meaning of fulsome. That I was using verbal tricks to insult her to her face. She declined to see or speak to me again. I was forevermore “that f*cking asshole” in her lexicon.

    So I have that going for me. And no one can ever take it away from me. Sigh.

  2. says

    It’s a dangerous word. I’ve long consigned it to the negative meanings only, as in “a fulsome application of perfume.”

  3. Raucous Indignation says

    So I found out. Truth be told, it may also have had something to do with my delivery. Almost everything I said at that age was fairly dripping with sarcasm. Whether I wanted it to be or not.

  4. says

    I have a similar problem delivery wise, I have to quite careful when talking to people. Then again, I am frequently meaning to be sarcastic.

  5. Raucous Indignation says

    I later called another woman “voluptuous” which I thought would be safe. Nope. It was want. Again accused of calling her fat, again had a fruitless defense, luckily the OED bailed me out in that one. The much younger me began to realize that maybe weight and body image might sometime, just maybe, kinda could sorta be a problem for a teensy number women in our society. I decided should just keep my mouth shut, but I rarely took or take my own advice on that. My enlightenment progressed at glacial speed.

  6. says

    Voluptuous, really? I would have considered that one safe enough, it’s always complimentary in sense. Of course, you’re right in your assessment of body values; the current pit they are in, and have been for some time devalues any generosity of body. You’d probably want to avoid zaftig, that’s guaranteed to get your arse in trouble.

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