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See also: Billow



From Middle English *bilowe, *bilewe, *bilwe, *bilȝe, borrowed from Old Norse bylgja[1], from Proto-Germanic *bulgijō. Cognates include Danish bølge, Norwegian Bokmål bølge, Norwegian Nynorsk bylgje, Middle High German bulga and Low German bulge.



billow (plural billows)

  1. A large wave, swell, surge, or undulating mass of something, such as water, smoke, fabric or sound
    • 1782, William Cowper, “Expostulation”, in Poems by William Cowper, of the Inner Temple, Esq.:
      [] Whom the winds waft where'er the billows roll, / From the world's girdle to the frozen pole;
    • 1842, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “The Wreck of the Hesperus”, in Ballads and Other Poems:
      The snow fell hissing in the brine, / And the billows frothed like yeast.
    • 1851, Herman Melville, Moby Dick, Chapter 9:
      But at that moment he is sprung upon by a panther billow leaping over the bulwarks. Wave after wave thus leaps into the ship []
    • 1864, Frank Moore, Songs of the Soldiers, page 238:
      The banners outflame the blazing morn, / O'er billows of bayonet, sword, and spear.
    • 1873, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “The Brook and the Wave”, in Birds of Passage:
      And the brooklet has found the billow / Though they flowed so far apart.
    • 1893 August, Rudyard Kipling, "Seal Lullaby", in "The White Seal", National Review.
      Where billow meets billow, there soft be thy pillow; / Ah, weary wee flipperling, curl at thy ease!
    • 1922, Clark Ashton Smith, The Caravan:
      Have the swirling sands engulfed them, on a noon of storm when the desert rose like the sea, and rolled its tawny billows on the walled gardens of the green and fragrant lands?

Derived terms[edit]



billow (third-person singular simple present billows, present participle billowing, simple past and past participle billowed)

  1. To surge or roll in billows.
    • 1920, Peter B. Kyne, chapter 2, in The Understanding Heart:
      During the preceding afternoon a heavy North Pacific fog had blown in … Scudding eastward from the ocean, it had crept up and over the redwood-studded crests of the Coast Range mountains, [] , billowing steadily eastward, it had rolled up the western slopes of the Siskiyou Range, []
    • 1942, Emily Carr, “Chain Gang”, in The Book of Small:
      The nuns' veils billowed and flapped behind the snaky line of girls as if the sisters were shooing the serpent from the Garden of Eden.
    • 2015, Alison Matthews David, Fashion Victims: The Damages of Dress Past and Present, →ISBN, page 59:
      The black clouds of mercury vapour constantly billowing from the hatter's workshops and out into the streets must have been a horrifying sight.
  2. To swell out or bulge.
    • 1936 June 30, Margaret Mitchell, chapter I, in Gone with the Wind, New York, N.Y.: The Macmillan Company, →OCLC; republished New York, N.Y.: The Macmillan Company, 1944, →OCLC:
      Her new green flowered-muslin dress spread its twelve yards of billowing material over her hoops and exactly matched the flat-heeled green morocco slippers her father had recently brought her from Atlanta.
    • 1983, Peter De Vries, chapter 9, in Slouching Towards Kalamazoo, page 125:
      She had changed her auburn hair. Instead of wearing it in a billowing puff over her brow, she had gathered it into a ponytail, secured with a length of yellow yarn.



  1. ^ Douglas Harper (2001–2023), “billow”, in Online Etymology Dictionary.