1. Excessively flattering or insincerely earnest. See Synonyms at unctuous.
2. Disgusting or offensive: "With the stink of decaying corpses so near her cave ... suddenly she felt overpowered by the fulsome reek" (Jean Auel).
3. Usage Problem Copious or abundant.
[Middle English fulsom, abundant, well-fed, arousing disgust : ful, full; see FULL1 + -som, adj. suff.; see -SOME1.]
Usage Note: The original meaning of fulsome was "copious, abundant." But fulsome is now most often used of remarks that involve excessive praise or ingratiating flattery, as in Their fulsome compliments were viewed as an awkward attempt at winning approval. This narrower application of the word has become its sole meaning for many educated speakers, to the point where a large majority of the Usage Panel disapproves of the use of fulsome to mean simply "full" or "copious." In our 2012 survey, only 19 percent accepted the use of fulsome as a synonym of full in the sentence You can adjust the TV's audio settings for a more fulsome bass in movie soundtracks. Use of the word as a synonym of copious or expansive found only slightly more takers—21 percent accepted The final report will furnish a more detailed and fulsome discussion of the issues involved. The use of fulsome as a simple synonym of praising without a clear indication of inordinacy or insincerity split the Panel nearly down the middle, with 55 percent accepting the example The research director claimed that the product was a major advance that would improve Web access for everyone, and the marketing VP was equally fulsome in her remarks. Thus it may be best to avoid fulsome except where the context unambiguously conveys the idea that the praise in question is excessive or fawning.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2018 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
The American Heritage Dictionary Blog
Check out our blog, updated regularly, for new words and revised definitions, interesting images from the 5th edition, discussions of usage, and more.