A fulsome apology… is that what you really mean?

A cabinet minister resigned… no comment on that, but I am wondering about something she said when trying to get herself out the mess she had created. She wrote to the Prime Minister “I offer a fulsome apology to you and to the government for what has happened and offer my resignation.”

Now I always understood that fulsome didn’t mean sincerest, deepest, whole-hearted but actually was a way of describing something which was insincere, overdone, exaggerated, or in bad taste . ‘Fulsome praise’ – I’m not sure I would want that!

So what do dictionaries say? Am I right? Or is the cabinet minister? To the etymonline: my favourite word website tells me that the word originated in the thirteenth century and did indeed, seven hundred years ago, mean as it suggests, abundant and plentiful; in that original sense an abundant or plentiful apology would maybe be appropriate. However, in the centuries that followed, s so often happens with English words, its meaning reversed, maybe through irony, to meaning offensive. At first this ‘offensive’ meaning was so strong that whatever was fulsome was sickening, or vomit-inducing, but later it modified to meaning in bad taste. By the early fifteenth century it meant excessively flattering… toadying springs to mind, and that is how it remained and how I understand it.

It does seem, however that in recent times it has reverted in some circles to its original meaning from seven hundred years ago, so maybe the cabinet minister was ahead of me, with the new trend.


Here’s an interesting article about this very thing:



  1. Offensive to good taste, tactless, overzealous, excessive. quotations 
  2. Excessively flattering (connoting insincerity).



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