Only Context Tells Us What You Mean By 'Fulsome'


The Skunking of "Fulsome"


My colleague Stephanie Fysh, who was coordinator at the Ryerson University Publishing Programme when I began teaching there, introduced me to the wonderful phrase "skunked" to describe a term that is used in two different ways by two different groups of people who, as with "fulsome," respectively look down on and are baffled by one another, with the result that most writers of texts aimed at a broad audience are best advised to avoid it altogether.

Another example is "contemporary"---if you use it to mean "from the same time period," as its etymology and earlier use suggest, you will baffle those who take it to mean "current," a meaning that I expect spread to the mainstream after the term "contemporary art" was coined to discuss art more modern than "modern art." But if you use it with this latter meaning you'll annoy some well-read traditionalists (like me ;-p ).

I've also heard the term "zombie words." (We had fun with this idea when, at the Editors' Association of Canada conference a few years ago, there was a showing of the film *Pontypool*, in which an epidemic of zombieism turns out to in fact be rooted in language.... )

Elizabeth d'Anjou

Posted on Thu, 12/12/2013 - 1:23pm


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