This blog is for everyone who uses words.

The ordinary-sized words are for everyone, but the big ones are especially for children.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Spot the frippet: bombast.

Bombast: a lovely fat and bouncy word. Nowadays it usually means pompous language. This is easy to spot - just listen to any headmaster or politician - but if you are quite depressed enough as it is, give yourself a break and look for the other sort of bombast, which means stuffing.

That's not stuffing as in sage and onion, I hasten to add, though it was sometimes almost edible. Bombast was used in the 16th century as stuffing for clothes to make them grander.  This sort of bombast could be made of wool, cotton, horsehair, sawdust, or even bran. The enormous trousers and sleeves of a 16th century person would be full of the stuff (though bran and sawdust were not recommended as the smallest tear would leave you trailing bombast behind you wherever you went. And, I should imagine in the case of bran, rats and mice, as well.)

There was a short bizarre fashion for men to have paunches, and they were stuffed with bombast, too.

If you happen not to have a 16th century courtier hanging about your house (where's a ghost when you need one?) then a puffa jacket or a pair of shoulder pads would provide, I think, an acceptable equivalent.

Bombast meaning pompous language is said by some to derive from Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim, otherwise known, thank heavens, as Paracelsus.

Paracelsus was a man of many talents, a renaissance man who lived in, and he was so outstandingly unpopular that the idea that bombast is named after him is really almost convincing.

'Let me tell you this:' he said 'every little hair on my neck knows more than you and all your scribes, and my shoe buckles are more learned than your Galen and Avicenna.'

Now, there was someone who was really reckoned to be in need of stuffing.

Spot the frippet: bombast. This word comes from the Old French bombace, from the Latin bombāx, cotton.

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