Simon Winchester, after he wrote "The Professor and the Madman" took a lot of heat from prescriptivists for using the word "fulsome" several times in the book as a synonym for "abundant." I checked in the OED and the word is defined wholly in negative terms such as "gross," "foul," disgusting," "fawning," etc. Encarta World allows the sense of "lavish" for "fulsome." Do you think Winchester used the word incorrectly? I do not, because, I believe that when most people use the phrase "fulsome praise," theay are using it in the sense of "abundant" without any implication of insincerity. What thinks you?
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Simon Winchester, after he wrote "The Professor and the Madman" took a lot of heat from prescriptivists for using the ... phrase "fulsome praise," theay are using it in the sense of "abundant" without any implication of insincerity. What thinks you?

I have learnt something from reading this posting. I had always imagined in the past that "fulsome" meant "copious" or "generous". The Oxford Encyclopedic English Dictionary does indeed give "copious" as a meaning of the word, but the definition is given as "disgusting by excess of flattery, servility, or expressions of affections".

I do not often come across the word in my normal reading, but when I do, it is usually along the lines of :-
"He moved his hands slowly down and gently caressed her fulsome breasts, kissing her passionately."
I am now totally confused, not that that takes much doing. Should I now interpret the sentence to mean that her breasts were attractively plump and squeezable, or were they disgusting by excess? Or a bit of both, perhaps?

Richard Chambers Leeds UK.
.. I checked in the OED and the word is defined wholly in negative terms such as "gross," "foul," disgusting," "fawning," etc. Encarta World allows the sense of "lavish" for "fulsome." ...

I believe the word is presently evolving.
The "ful" in it was originally rooted in "foul".
But the word suggests to many that the "ful" should be rooted in "full" and it is evolving towards that. I've stopped using the word because of its present ambiguity.
Gerry
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Simon Winchester, after he wrote "The Professor and the Madman" took a lot of heat from prescriptivists for using the ... phrase "fulsome praise," theay are using it in the sense of "abundant" without any implication of insincerity. What thinks you?

Whilst I learned at a young age that "fulsome" implied insincerity excessively flattery, I'm very aware that it's now most often used to mean "very full". The meaning is in the process of changing but the change is not yet complete.
Personally, I can't bring myself to use it in the sense of "abundant", as I know that's not correct; but I'm aware that using it in the traditional sense will confuse many people.
So I simply avoid using it.
For me, this is a classic case of what's known (at least in this newsgroup) as a "skunked" word, or one that is unusable with either its original or evolving sense. (Others in this category are "disinterested" and "bemused".)

Cheers, Harvey
Ottawa/Toronto/Edmonton for 30 years;
Southern England for the past 21 years.
(for e-mail, change harvey to whhvs)
snip
"He moved his hands slowly down and gently caressed her fulsome breasts, kissing her passionately." I am now totally confused, ... that her breasts were attractively plump and squeezable, or were they disgusting by excess? Or a bit of both, perhaps?

Nope: you should read it as you first thought that they were "very full" but realise that the writer eiether doesn't know the original and traditional meaning of the word, or has decided to jettison it.

Cheers, Harvey
Ottawa/Toronto/Edmonton for 30 years;
Southern England for the past 21 years.
(for e-mail, change harvey to whhvs)
.. I checked in the OED and the word is ... Encarta World allows the sense of "lavish" for "fulsome." ...

I believe the word is presently evolving. The "ful" in it was originally rooted in "foul".

Actually, not quite accurate. The prefix is from "thawl", nordic in origin, related to modern English "fuel". The fuel in question consisted of animal waste. Hence the negative connotation.

You are right about the confusion with "full", though.

R.
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Simon Winchester, after he wrote "The Professor and the Madman" took a lot of heat from prescriptivists for using the ... phrase "fulsome praise," theay are using it in the sense of "abundant" without any implication of insincerity. What thinks you?

While we're on the subject, what about the use of "Professor" in the American title of this book? (In the UK it was called "The Surgeon of Crowthorne".) If I recall the biography correctly, not only was Murray never a Professor, he wasn't even a university graduate (though Oxford may have given him an honorary degree later in life). I don't know whether Winchester is to blame, or his American publishers. Is "professor" being used here to mean "guy who knows a lot of big words"?

Ross Clark
For me, this is a classic case of what's known (at least in this newsgroup) as a "skunked" word, or one that is unusable with either its original or evolving sense. (Others in this category are "disinterested" and "bemused".)

What's happened to "bemuse" to skunk it?

Katy Jennison
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Personally, I can't bring myself to use it in the sense of "abundant", as I know that's not correct; but ... or one that is unusable with either its original or evolving sense. (Others in this category are "disinterested" and "bemused".)

I would like to ask the same question about "bemused" as Katie has. You can add to your list "infer", which until about 50 years ago (perhaps longer) meant "deduce", but which nowadays is often used as a replacement word for "imply". The Oxford Encyclopedic English Dictionary lists this as another "disputed" definition.
Richard Chambers Leeds UK.
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