What does “bloviate” mean?

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Increase your vocabulary and you’ll make your writing much more precise. That’s why I provide a word of the week. Today’s word: bloviate…

The term bloviate has long been one of my favourite words. I smiled when I spotted it in the interesting and unsettling novel The Submission by Amy Waldman, because I knew it would give me the chance to explore the word’s etymology.

Here is how Waldman used it:

Before Mo left New York, Roi, on speakerphone from Paris, had bloviated about the glory days of embassy architecture, when great modernists —Saarinen, Gropius, Breuer (all immigrants, Mo had noted to himself)— were sought out to design buildings that embodied American values like democracy and openness.

If you’re unfamilar with bloviate, you might take a hint from the first syllable, blo(w). The word means to talk at length, particularly in an inflated or empty way. The term apparently dates back to 1857, when it was an American Midwestern expression meaning “to talk aimlessly and boastingly.”

The word had fallen out of favour by the late 19th century but it enjoyed a revival in the 1920s, during the presidency of Warren G. Harding, who wrote generally incomprehensible prose. The poet e.e. cummings eulogized him as, “The only man, woman or child who wrote a simple declarative sentence with seven grammatical errors.”

In Harding’s day the word took on its current connection with political speech which revived again during the 2000 U.S. election season. The word is sometimes applied to certain rather wordy bloggers.

The photo at the top of the post shows a man addressing a roomful on onlookers. I’m just guessing, but it looks to me as though he might be bloviating….

An earlier version of this post first appeared on my blog on Nov. 6/19.

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