A little change of pace today, generated by one of the books I’m currently reading …
I’m only 130 pages in to the novel set in Victorian England and already the co-authors have used the word ‘fulsome’ several times. In all those instances, they have used it semi-correctly only once.
One of the characters, Cardwell, for instance, ‘tugged at his fulsome muttonchops, fiddled with his speckled bow tie, cleared his throat, and tried to keep his growing temper in check.’
Another character, Captain Miles, ‘ … sparkled in his uniform and wore very well his other emblems of authority, including side whiskers so fulsome that they would have made Edward Cardwell weep with envy.’
As Chapter Thirteen starts, one of the main characters, Douglas, reflects on the scene before him. The ‘great ship’ Sultana is ‘as fit as any vessel put to sea. Then again … [i]f she sank beneath those fulsome waves, succumbing to a watery grave, the only thing left afloat would be the lard.’
Perhaps you can tell from these passages which is the more correct way to use ‘fulsome.’ I’ve addressed this more fully in the Page above called ‘Those Fulsome Wordplay Blues,’ but in short, ‘fulsome’ is not a word that means something good. In his book Fine Print James J. Kilpatrick declares it is not the ‘friendly’ word he [and I will add, most people] thought it was. ‘Its primary meaning is insincere, phony, offensively effusive …’
The Oxford Dictionary and Thesaurus defines ‘fulsome’ as ‘disgusting by excess of flattery, servility, or expressions of flattery, cloying … In fulsome praise, fulsome means “excessive,” not “generous.”‘
Using these definitions, even the third passage above, about the ‘fulsome waves,’ is not entirely correct, but it is closer to the intended meaning than ‘fulsome’ side whiskers. Given the authors’ use of ‘fulsome waves,’ though, I wonder why neither they nor their editors noticed the difference.
I wonder, too, how many more times they’ll use the word. And if they’ll find the right meaning eventually.