Thursday, May 25, 2006

The Fulsome Gourmand

This has nothing to do with property other than some residual grading avoidance.  At a faculty meeting last week, I suggested that some action steps for part of our draft strategic plan be made more fulsome.  I intended fulsome to mean copious, but my colleague John Culhane later suggested that fulsome had negative connotations.  This led to some follow-up grading-avoidance-induced e-mail correspondence on the subject.  John sent along the following definition of fulsome from Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary:

fulsome [ME fulsom copious, cloying] 1. characterized by abundance: copious 2: offensive to the senses or to moral or aesthetic sensibility: disgusting 3. a: excessively complimentary or flattering: lavish  b. obsequious   4. exceeding the bounds of good taste: overdone  5. being completely developed: full, well-rounded

Usage:   Many commentators condemn the modern use of fulsome without pejorative overtones as misuse or ignorance. This use (sense 1) is, however, the earliest and etymologically purest sense of the word. But since the pejorative senses continue to flourish, expressions like "fulsome praise"  can be ambiguous; the reader or hearer may not be sure whether sense 1 or sense 3 is intended.

This reminded me of the arguably incorrect usage of the word gourmand to refer to someone who enjoys good food.  This is a correct modern usage, but the original meaning was glutton and the word should have the same kind of negative connotation as fulsome.  Gourmand actually has a different derivation than gourmet -- gourmand comes from a middle english word that means glutton, while gourmet comes from the french and middle english words for valet (esp. the valet in charge of wines).

Ben Barros

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