Yesterday, one Irish politician called on another to make an apology to the Irish people. This would just be another forgettable eddy in a political coffee cup were it not for the fact that the demand was for a “fulsome” apology. Can this be right?
The Oxford English Dictionary (pictured left) in its entry (sub req’d) for “fulsome” lists six various obsolete usages (in which it simply means abundant or generous) and then gives the following modern definition of that word:
Of language, style, behaviour, etc.: Offensive to good taste; esp. offending from excess or want of measure or from being ‘over-done’. Now chiefly used in reference to gross or excessive flattery, over-demonstrative affection, or the like.
Although the earliest sense of fulsome was ‘abundant’, this is now regarded by many as incorrect; the correct meaning today is said to be ‘excessively flattering’. This gives rise to ambiguity: the possibility that while for one speaker fulsome praise will be a genuine compliment, for others it will be interpreted as an insult.
Merriam-Webster Online (no sub req’d) says that the meaning of the word “fulsome” became a point of dispute when the largely positive meanings
thought to be obsolete in the 19th century, began to be revived in the 20th.