Thursday, May 03, 2007

Word Watch: fulsome

Look up fulsome in the dictionary, and you'll discover that it's quite a negative adjective. It means, roughly, "offensively excessive". So fulsome praise, for example, isn't praise at all; it's gushingly insincere flattery.

Except that nowadays it isn't. Whenever you see fulsome used these days, it invariably means something like "lavish" or "generous", with no pejorative sense at all.

The meaning of words can change over time. Good persuasive writers understand this. They may know the "correct" meaning of a particular word, but they recognise that insisting on using it in that sense - thereby showing that they know better than their readers - won't help them achieve the result they want.