- fulsome1. The first meaning of fulsome was ‘copious, abundant’, but it had lost this along with other meanings by the 16c and acquired an unfavourable sense ‘excessive, cloying’, especially with reference to praise or flattery. This meaning remained the dominant one until the second half of the 20c, when fulsome began to be used in favourable meanings, so that fulsome praise meant high or lavish praise rather than excessive or nauseating praise. This new use, more common in AmE but increasingly found in BrE too, should be avoided, because the adverse meaning is still much in use and there is a danger of unfortunate misunderstanding. Examples of erroneous and correct uses follow:
• ☒ Critics, who insist the Pope has not gone far enough in apologising, will be expecting him to express fulsome remorse —Irish News, 2006
• I Walks surefootedly through the minefield that separates fulsome idolatry from condescending anecdotal chit-chat —Times Literary Supplement, 1977.Useful alternatives to fulsome in the erroneous ‘favourable’ sense include lavish, generous, enthusiastic, effusive, exuberant, copious, glowing, and extravagant.2. Fulsome is also occasionally used to mean ‘full-figured’, with reference to a woman's figure, by fashion writers who analyse the word as consisting of full + -some as in handsome, wholesome, etc.:
• The craze for the fulsome figure…may come to an end sometime in the next couple of decades, say those in the know —Sunday Times, 1998.
Modern English usage. 2014.