The Prompter Room

For Tuesday, August 1, 2017:

 

Yesterday’s TV news reports reminded me that this might be a good time to rehearse the meaning of an oft-used word that is usually used incorrectly: ‘fulsome.’  James J. Kilpatrick, my favorite go-to source for all things grammar, has this to say:

It always is a shock for a writer to discover that a familiar word doesn’t mean what he thinks it means.  So it is with fulsome.  For a good many years I thought fulsome was a friendly word.  Many others thought the same thing.  In 1983 a Midwestern newspaper reported on astronaut Sally Ride: ‘Ms. Ride, appearing fresh and spirited despite her trail-blazing, six-day voyage, modestly accepted President Reagan’s fulsome praise.’

No, no, no!  Fulsome does not mean abundant, or copious, or florid, or excessive.  Its primary meaning is insincere, phony, offensively effusive.  Members of the Senate engage in fulsome speech when they speak of an ‘able, distinguished, erudite, and dedicated’ colleague.  This is spatula speech, the kind of no-cal icing that may be piled upon a pound cake.

James J. Kilpatrick, FINE PRINT: REFLECTIONS ON THE WRITING ART (1993)

 

(See my page above, ‘Those Fulsome Wordplay Blues,’ for more on this word and others that tend to trip up even the best writers.)