Ken's Project Blog

July 14, 2011


Filed under: In The News — Ken @ 12:18 pm

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), in a report over at The Hill website said the following of Wednesday’s Debt Ceiling/Deficit Spending meeting:

“We had a pretty fulsome discussion on the specifics that the White House was prepared to agree to, or at least that they thought were options that were viable,” Hoyer said in an interview shortly after the meeting at the White House. [emphasis added]


Fulsome – that word just jumped out at me, so I dutifully went over to and searched for the word “fulsome,” and all the postings I followed had similar definitions of the word fulsome – originally it conveyed the idea of “abundance,” then about 500 years ago it took on distinctly negative connotation, conveying the idea of “offensive, overdone.” More recently the word has taken on its original meaning, and I feel one can safely assume that Rep. Hoyer certainly meant the original definition.

As Mr. Safire noted in the New York Times back in March, 2009 about the word fulsome:

In the 20th century, however, the original, positive meaning of “abundant” made a comeback that now causes semantic confusion. To some, fulsome praise means “full-fledged acknowledgment of worthiness”; to others, it means “overboard apple-polishing; nauseating flattery.” Many dictionaries give both definitions and don’t take sides, in “usage notes” merely tipping off the Language Slobs to watch out for denunciation from the Language Snobs.

Look (to use an imperativism favored by Obama as a sentence opener): Never use a word sure to sow confusion. Other examples: Many people think noisome means “noisy,” but it does not; noisome means “smelly” or, if you like, “malodorous.” If you want to communicate broadly, strike such Janus-like words from your vocabulary; they befuddle. Same with the highbrow noun plethora, which is just as two-headed a monster as the adjective fulsome; to some it means “plenty,” but to others it means “too much.”


While some (like myself) will delight in such an excursion into the etymology of a certain word, I have to wonder which meaning a foreign journalist, for whom english is a second language, would choose when translating his comments – in the current political climate, either seems correct, I suspect.

Sources: Obama warns Cantor: ‘Don’t call my bluff’ in debt-ceiling talks Steny Hoyer


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