Sunday, 15 September 2013

Bombastic - Woolly Speech

Photo by BJ Carter



Noun. Mid-16th century.
[Variant of BOMBACE noun Old French from medieval Latin bombax, bombacis, raw cotton; cotton fibre for padding etc.,
alteration of BOMBYX noun a silkwork or silkworm moth. Compare with BOMBAZINE.]

1 Raw cotton; cotton wool, especially as padding. obsolete except historical. M16

2 figurative. Inflated, turgid, or high-sounding language; empty rhetoric. L16

adjective of the nature of bombast; given to inflated language. E18

adjective (archaic) = bombastic. M17

adverb E19

I signed up to write a guest post for the word bombastic because I planned to write about self-important rhetoric and the way the sound of bombastic puts me in mind of a bass drum or a sonorous, wordy speech with no end in sight. It reminds me of how your older brother gets when you catch him out on some trivial mistake - big excuses and explanations that somehow call your intelligence into question while puffing up his own self-esteem like an over-inflated pool float. The shape and cadence of bombastic says it all: pushy and empty, pompous and inflated. The best synonym I can think of is full of hot air. Or, in less polite company, full of B.S.

But all these plans got sidetracked when I learned the origins of the word. Bombast? Cotton padding? What? This sent me down an internet wormhole with the unsatisfactory result that I now know more about 16th century textile issues than your average internet-user, but am still no closer to understanding how the figurative leap happened between cosy quilting and rotund rhetoric. I suppose I could theorize at length, with lofty words and convoluted metaphors, but instead I’ll leave it at a linguistic question mark …

Do you have any thoughts on the origins of bombastic?

Do any other insulting textile-based adjectives springing to mind?

Please comment below.


  1. Thanks Katie. I come across inflated, turgid and high-sounding language a lot when talking to one or two people, but just didn't know the adjective before. Maybe rolling the word 'bombastic' around my head while talking to them in future might ease the pain.


  2. C, I often hold such verbiage in mind as an antidote to the annoyances around me. Shall I race you to sneaking "turgid" into daily conversation? Ready, go!

  3. And not even an honorary mention for Shaggy?