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.



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




The Prompter Room

For Tuesday, December 13, 2016:


Words come in textures; words are hard or smooth or squishy soft.  Words have colors; they are pastel, they are bold.  They are neutral.  They are colorless.  Words have sounds derived from their meanings; timid is soft, savage is hard, clamor is loud.  Words are sharp, words are blunt; words have edges that are keen.  There are scalpel words and razor words and words that have a saber’s slash.  Words are dull, words are sparkling.  Words are alive, they are languid.  Words fly, sail, drive, race, creep, crawl.  So many words!  If we are patient – if we will work at the task – we will begin to find the right ones.

James J. Kilpatrick, FINE PRINT (1993)