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From Middle English fulsum, equivalent to full +‎ -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.



fulsome (comparative fulsomer, superlative fulsomest)

  1. Offensive to good taste, tactless, overzealous, excessive.
    • 1726 October 28, [Jonathan Swift], chapter VIII, in Gulliver’s Travels, volume II, London: Printed for Benj[amin] Motte, OCLC 995220039, part IV:
      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 inflamed by desire . . . embraced me after a most fulsome manner.
    • 1820, Sir Walter Scott, chapter 35, in The Monastery:
      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).
    • 1889, Mark Twain, chapter 34, in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court:
      And by hideous contrast, a redundant orator was making a speech to another gathering not thirty steps away, in fulsome laudation of "our glorious British liberties!"
    • 1922, James Joyce, Ulysses, Episode 15—Circe:
      Mrs. Bellingham: He addressed me in several handwritings with fulsome compliments as a Venus in furs.
    • 2018 January 28, Dafydd Pritchard, “Cardiff City 1 - 1 Manchester City”, in BBC Sport[1]:
      City overcame a spirited effort from Cardiff's Championship rivals Bristol City in a keenly contested Carabao Cup semi-final on Tuesday night, with manager Pep Guardiola fulsome in his praise for Lee Johnson's men over two legs.
  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