Wednesday, 7 December 2011


As part of her excellent series on the caste system in India, Stephanie Nolan writes in this morning's Globe about the Love Commandos, a volunteer group that helps couples from different backgrounds who are cast out or threatened by their parents.

Mr. Sachdev [of the Love Commandos] has a lengthy roster of young couples who are fulsomely grateful to the Commandos: Vijay Sagar and his wife Simran were attacked by her parents, Sikhs in the Punjab, who objected when she fell in love with a less-educated Hindu (Globe and Mail, December 7, 2011).

"Fulsome" is one of many words whose meaning is changing, because, some would say, they are being being used incorrectly by so many people. 

The first meaning given in the Oxford Canadian has a negative connotation: "excessively complimentary or flattering, effusive, overdone". However, it is often used in its second sense, as in the example above, to mean abundant.

At least in this example the meaning is fairly evident from the context, although it would have been clearer if Ms. Nolan had simply referred to a "roster of young couples who are extremely grateful to the Commandos". In this sense of "full" or "abundant", "fulsome" has become a fashionable word, and is often used unnecesarily, and sometimes confusingly, when a simpler word would be better. It has become part of many journalists' and politicians' vocabulary, ready for use when the occasion arises. In yesterday's Globe, we read:

Kamloops MP Cathy McLeod told the newspaper that Mr. Kent wants to find out more information to see if something might trigger a panel review. “What he’s committed to is understanding this issue in a more fulsome way, which includes a site visit, which includes the community." (Globe and Mail, December 6, 2011) 

Again, it is fairly clear that Mr. Kent is committed to a fuller understanding of the issue. But he didn't say that, because "fulsome" has become part of his stock vocabulary. 

A problem arises when the reader cannot tell from the context which meaning is intended. In a  comment on an article about Margaret Thatcher, the writer comments:

Vanity Fair has been a redoubt of anglophilia from the days of Tina Brown’s editorship through the current regime of Canadian-born Graydon Carter, so it’s hardly a surprise to find Moore, former editor of the rabidly Tory The Daily Telegraph, waxing eloquent here. Fulsomeness aside, the article’s timely not only because we’ll soon be seeing Meryl Streep’s impersonation of the baroness in theatres but because it provides a sort of relief to the seemingly intractable difficulties faced by Britain’s current Tory supremo David Cameron (Globe and Mail, November 8, 2011). 

What meaning is intended here? Is the praise of Margaret Thatcher abundant or sickeningly so? Probably the latter, but we can't be sure.

"Fulsome" is a word best avoided altogether. Its earlier meaning of "sickeningly excessive" is almost forgotten, and in its newer sense of "full" or "abundant" it has evolved into political or journalistic jargon.

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