Friday, 6 December 2013

Buxom - Cheerfully Big-Breasted

Pin-up by Alberto Vargas (1896-1982)


Adjective. Middle English.
[from stem of Old English (ge)būgan bend, BOW verb + -SOME.]

1 obsolete. Compliant (to); meek;
gracious, obliging, kindly;
easily moved, prone (to do). ME-M19

2 obsolete. Physically pliable, flexible, unresisting. L16-L17

3 Blithe, bright, lively, gay. archaic. L16

4 Chiefly of a woman: full of health, vigour, and good temper; plump and comely. L16

buxomness noun ME

There's been a change in the meaning of buxom - both Merriam-Webster and the OED now agree that it carries the specific connotation of a full-figured woman with large breasts which, to be fair, was always the connotation it had for me. However, when you look at its other meanings, it's rather sad that these are being lost, as an adjective for a "woman full of health, vigour and good temper" is rather lovely (if a little patronising, and I certainly wouldn't ever work "plump and comely" into a compliment). It also wasn't always just applied to women: in Paradise Lost, Milton wrote "Wing silently the buxom air," and the OED carried a quote from the Economist as "Her jolly, kindly personality and her buxom charm," although on today's understanding one can only assume that buxom charm is somehow synonymous with big-breasted charm.

But languages change, and words, like old friends, move on and settle in new places. Buxom, which still retains its shades of health and vigour, but with the very definite addition of big boobs, is perhaps epitomised by such characters as Jessica Rabbit, Lara Croft and Chun Li, as well as the classic pin-ups from artists like Pearl Frush and Alberto Vargas. Come to think of it, a disproportionate number of female video games characters and superheroes could be described as buxom. I wonder why ...

Did you ever use or know buxom to have any other meaning?

Do please leave your most vigorous and good-tempered comments below.


  1. Butts and boobs... I predict a notable rise in pageviews!

    1. Your powers of prediction are truly uncanny, Bibi - a record number of hits yesterday : o )

  2. I agree Bibi!

    I've always loved this word. And I don't mind it's more modern meaning.
    But please, please, please don't ever let it just mean big-boobed. (Handle that Ed, ok!)
    It would be such a waste of a wonderful word.
    The world needs a small-boobed healthy heroine! :)

    1. We're in complete agreement on this, Jingles, and I rather like the word 'buxom' too.

  3. Currently on holiday in Egypt with patchy Wifi so haven't checked in in a couple of days. Two nights ago I spent an hour and a half in a very interesting and sometimes heated conversation with an Egyptian man about politics and religion, the Arab spring and their cold war with Israel. As it began to wind down to more friendly tones, he mentioned that he loves having debates with English ( or Irish ) people because it improves his English as he's also an English teacher. I said: "Hey I know what you should do to expand your vocabulary. Look up"
    Hmmm. Gratuitous bum pictures, busty ladies, references to the infamous "Boobs" post...
    I may have made a mistake.

    1. No, no, no ... he'll love it I'm sure! Thanks for the recommendation.

    2. Hah, the "Boobs" post. Wasn't that fun :P