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Alternative forms


From Middle English fulsum, equivalent to ful- +‎ -some. The meaning has evolved from an original positive connotation "abundant" to a neutral "plump" to a negative "overfed". In modern usage, it can take on any of these inflections. See usage note.

The negative sense "offensive, gross; disgusting, sickening" developed secondarily after the 13th century and was influenced by Middle English foul (foul).[1] In the 18th century, the word was sometimes even spelled foulsome.[2]



fulsome (comparative fulsomer, superlative fulsomest)

  1. Offensive to good taste, tactless, overzealous, excessive.
    • 1726 October 28, [Jonathan Swift], chapter VIII, in Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World. In Four Parts. [] [Gulliver’s Travels], volume II, London: Printed for Benj[amin] Motte, [], OCLC 995220039, part IV (A Voyage to the Houyhnhnms), page 276:
      [T]he Weather exceeding hot, I entreated him to let me bathe in a River that was near. He conſented, and I immediately ſtripped myſelf ſtark naked, and went down ſoftly into the ſtream. It happened that a young Female Yahoo ſtanding behind a Bank, ſaw the whole proceeding, and enflamed by Deſire, as the Nag and I conjectured, came running with all ſpeed, and leaped into the Water within five Yards of the Place where I bathed. [...] She embraced me after a moſt fulſome manner; [...]
    • 1820 March, [Walter Scott], chapter X, in The Monastery. A Romance. [...] In Three Volumes, volume III, Edinburgh: Printed for Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown, []; and for Archibald Constable and Co., and John Ballantyne, [], OCLC 892089409:
      You will hear the advanced enfans perdus, as the French call them, and so they are indeed, namely, children of the fall, singing unclean and fulsome ballads of sin and harlotrie.
  2. Excessively flattering (connoting insincerity).
  3. Marked by fullness; abundant, copious.
    The fulsome thanks of the war-torn nation lifted our weary spirits.
  4. Fully developed; mature.
    Her fulsome timbre resonated throughout the hall.

Usage notes

  • Common usage tends toward the negative connotation, and using fulsome in the sense of abundant, copious, or mature may lead to confusion without contextual prompts.


Derived terms