dimanche 6 février 2011

B words (Part 1)

Le présent billet a été rédigé par Jonathan Goldberg, que je remercie. Une traduction en français sera publiée prochainement sur ce blog.

The Merriam Webster Online Dictionary defines the noun “bombast” as “pretentious, inflated speech or writing.”

The word goes back to Latin and Greek, from which it entered old French to mean “cotton or cotton wadding”. It then entered English in the 1550s as “bombace” but soon after was corrupted to “bombast”, meaning cotton padding. In the 1580s it acquired a new, figurative meaning, “pompous or empty speech”. It has retained that meaning for over 500 years.

 “Bluster” is a word with a similar figurative meaning to “bombast”, except that (in addition to its literal meaning of a boisterous blowing or a violent commotion), it denotes boastful or threatening speech, e.g. She ignored his bluster as empty rhetoric.

Boasting” and “bragging” are more common nouns, which share elements with “bombast” and “bluster”. They also denote a style of speaking that shows excessive self-pride.

English has adopted a similar noun, “braggadocio” from Italian. This was coined by the British poet, Edmund Spenser, as the name of a character in “The Faerie Queen” (1590 & 1596). He altered the Italian word Braggadocchio so as to personify the trait of vainglory (boastful, unwarranted pride in one’s accomplishments or qualities, a word which is no longer in common use today.) Within only four years of Spenser’s initial usage, it entered English to denote a boastful person and then in 1734 began to be used to mean the talk of boastful people, a meaning which has remained unchanged for nearly 400 years.


Other “b words”, “bullshit”, “BS”, “bushwa”  and “bollocks”.

 “Bullshit” literally means “bovine dung”. The word “bull” is generally considered to be a short, less vulgar form of “bullshit”, but this is incorrect. In the sense of “false talk” or fraud”, “bull” dates back to Middle English, and is apparently derived from Old French bole, meaning deception of scheming.”Bullshit”, on the other hand, began in the United States in 1915, as a slang word meaning eloquent and insincere rhetoric. Today it is used in vulgar or familiar language (in many countries where English is spoken) to mean nonsense, as a noun, or to talk nonsense as a verb.


BS” and  “bushwa”  are euphemisms for “bullshit”.

bollocks”, literally meaning “testicles”, is also used (principally in Britain) as a noun to mean nonsense.

Although “bullshit” and “bullocks” are not synonyms of “boasting”, “bragging”, bluster” or “bombast”, boastful people are likely to have their statements or opinions  characterized as “bullshit” or (in Britain) “bollocks”.

More “b words” meaning nonsense.
Other synonyms for nonsense are  balderdash”,” baloney”, “bilge”, “bosh”, bunk” and  bunkum”. These words will be discussed in Part 2 of this article.

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