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From Middle English bulk, bolke (a heap, cargo, hold; heap; bulge), borrowed from Old Norse búlki (the freight or the cargo of a ship), from Proto-Germanic *bulkô (beam, pile, heap), from Proto-Indo-European *bʰelǵ- (beam, pile, prop). Compare Icelandic búlkast (to be bulky), Swedish dialectal bulk (a bunch), Danish bulk (bump, knob).

Conflated with Middle English bouk (belly, trunk).


  • enPR: bŭlk, IPA(key): /bʌlk/
  • (file)
  • Rhymes: -ʌlk


bulk (countable and uncountable, plural bulks)

  1. Size, specifically, volume.
    • 1729, I Newton, Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy, page 1:
      The Quantity of Matter is the measure of the same, arising from its density and bulk conjunctly.
    • 1885, Lewis Carroll, “Knot IX”, in A Tangled Tale, page 58:
      “ Didn't Balbus say this morning that, if a body is immersed in liquid, it displaces as much liquid as is equal to its own bulk? ” said Hugh.
    • 1887, W. O. Atwater, “The Chemistry of Oyster-Fattening”, in Popular Science Monthly, volume 32, number November, page 77:
      By this process the body of the oyster acquires such a plumpness and rotundity, and its bulk and weight are so increased, as to materially increase its selling value.
    • 1912 January, Zane Grey, chapter 8, in Riders of the Purple Sage [], New York, N.Y., London: Harper & Brothers Publishers, →OCLC:
      The cliff-dwellers had chipped and chipped away at this boulder till it rested its tremendous bulk upon a mere pin-point of its surface.
  2. Any huge body or structure.
  3. The major part of something.
    • 1911, Encyclopædia Britannica, volume 24, «Sample», page 119:
      In the case of such a contract, there must be an implied condition that the bulk shall correspond with the sample in quality
    • 1918, W[illiam] B[abington] Maxwell, chapter XII, in The Mirror and the Lamp, Indianapolis, Ind.: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, →OCLC:
      There were many wooden chairs for the bulk of his visitors, and two wicker armchairs with red cloth cushions for superior people. From the packing-cases had emerged some Indian clubs, [], and all these articles [] made a scattered and untidy decoration that Mrs. Clough assiduously dusted and greatly cherished.
    • 2011 December 15, Felicity Cloake, “How to cook the perfect nut roast”, in Guardian:
      the main bulk of a nut roast is generally some form of carbohydrate, intended to lighten the load.
    1. Majority
      the bulk of my income comes from my office job, but I also teach a couple of evening classes.
    2. Gist
      I understood the bulk of what you were saying, just one of two points I need to hear again.

[dietary fibre|Dietary fibre]].

  1. (uncountable, transport) Unpackaged goods when transported in large volumes, e.g. coal, ore or grain.
  2. (countable) a cargo or any items moved or communicated in the manner of cargo.
  3. (bodybuilding) Excess body mass, especially muscle.
  4. (bodybuilding) A period where one tries to gain muscle.
  5. (brane cosmology) A hypothetical higher-dimensional space within which our own four-dimensional universe may exist.
  6. (obsolete) The body.
    • 1704, [Jonathan Swift], “Section II”, in A Tale of a Tub. [], London: [] John Nutt, [], →OCLC:
      ...haunted the chocolate-houses, beat the watch, lay on bulks, and got claps;
    • c. 1593 (date written), William Shakespeare, “The Tragedy of Richard the Third: []”, in Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies [] (First Folio), London: [] Isaac Iaggard, and Ed[ward] Blount, published 1623, →OCLC, [Act I, scene iv]:
      Methought I had, and often did I strive
      To yield the ghost, but still the envious flood
      Stopped in my soul and would not let it forth
      To find the empty, vast, and wand'ring air,
      But smothered it within my panting bulk,
      Who almost burst to belch it in the sea.
    • 1587, George Turberville, Tragical Tales:
      little Cupide stroue
      Within her bulke, because that she had woue
      The web that wrought Nastagio all his woe

Derived terms[edit]



bulk (not comparable)

  1. being large in size, mass or volume (of goods, etc.)
  2. total

Derived terms[edit]



bulk (third-person singular simple present bulks, present participle bulking, simple past and past participle bulked)

  1. (intransitive) To appear or seem to be, as to bulk or extent.
    • 1878, Leslie Stephen, Samuel Johnson:
      The fame of Warburton possibly bulked larger for the moment.
  2. (intransitive) To grow in size; to swell or expand.
  3. (intransitive) To gain body mass by means of diet, exercise, etc.
    Coordinate term: cut
  4. (transitive) To put or hold in bulk.
  5. (transitive, obsolete) To add bulk to, to bulk out.
    • 1599, [Thomas] Nashe, Nashes Lenten Stuffe, [], London: [] [Thomas Judson and Valentine Simmes] for N[icholas] L[ing] and C[uthbert] B[urby] [], →OCLC, page 6:
      Some of the towne dwellers haue ſo large an opinion of their ſetled prouiſion, that if all her Maieſties fleet at once ſhould put into their bay, within twelue dayes warning with ſo much double beere, beefe, fiſh and bisket they would bulke them as they could wallow away with.

Related terms[edit]