Friday, September 28, 2007

bloviate and brunch

My posts are so long these days. Can I do a short one? I'll try writing about a single word and see what happens.

My friend Maverick (an Englishwoman) was talking to an American friend via Skype, and the following happened:
There was some banter as I had accused of him of pontificating (as opposed to going out and doing research!) He said no, he was 'bloviating'. I had not come across this word before and when I looked it up on google during our conversation I saw that it is used in USA. Is it ever used on this side of the pond?
It's not the most common word in America, either, but it is AmE. To quote the OED (draft 2004) definition, it means "To talk at length, esp. using inflated or empty rhetoric; to speechify or ‘sound off’." Searching for it on .uk sites, one commonly finds comments about it being American, or in 'expand your vocabulary' sites, or in (BrE) inverted commas/(AmE) quotation marks, indicating its newness or foreignness. Some examples:
The verb "to bloviate" is one I learnt in America, and it sums up what Clinton excels at: an effortlessly congenial form of self-promotion. (Times Online, 2004)

The Concise also says croeso (welcome) to some Welsh words with bore da (good morning) and iechyd da (good health) joining thousands of words from all around the English-speaking world: dicky (car boot) and batchmate (classmate) from India, spinny (mad, crazy) from Canada, and bloviate (talk at length in an inflated or empty way) from America. (about the Concise Oxford English Dictionary on Amazon.co.uk)
It's not all that new, however. The OED has found it as far back as 1845, in an Ohio newspaper. In linguistic terms, it seems to be a blend, also known as a portmanteau word--that is, a word that smashes (new technical term) together the form and meaning two words. The OED suspects that it came from blow + -viate as in deviate.

Another blend that I like is brunch--or maybe I'm confusing liking the meal for liking the word. Now, I had assumed that this was an AmE word, since the concept of brunch (particularly the institution of Sunday brunch--see, for example, the site of San Diego's Sunday Brunch Master) is fairly undeveloped in the UK (because everyone's saving their appetites for Sunday lunch). Whenever I suggest to Better Half that we should host a Sunday brunch, his reaction is something like Huh? But it's my favo(u)rite meal of the week, especially when (AmE) coffee cake is involved. That's another one that puzzles BH. He thinks (as do all the caf├ęs (a)round here) that coffee cake means 'cake flavo(u)red with coffee', whereas in AmE it's a type of cake that goes well with a cup of coffee--particularly "in the U.S., a breakfast bread of yeast dough enriched with eggs, butter, and sugar, baked in a sheet topped with streusel [etc.]..and glazed with melted sugar" (OED). (See previous posts on baked goods and weird things people do with them, if you're interested.) So, I had a hard time believing that brunch could have originally been blended anywhere but America.

But how wrong I was! The OED lists it as 'orig. University slang' and its first published example of the word comes from Punch in 1896. Imagine that...

But before you imagine that, observe how pathetically I failed at writing about just the one word I meant to write about!

12 comments:

zhoen said...

Well, tea biscuits don't taste like tea.

Never heard bloviate before at all. (Am/E)

Spouse and I have coined a couple of portmanteaus, sproil for that food oil in a spray can. (Very useful.) And tunachicken for the chicken in a can, like tuna is frequently packed. We are trying to get them to catch on.

jhm said...

Strangely enough, I had just tried to use 'bloviate' minutes before reading this post, and discovered that not only was it flagged as a misspelling on my computer (Oxford American), but it was absent from my Merriam-Webster (Ninth New Collegiate [I know, but I really like my old copy]) as well.

I have the Eleventh on my computer, and this did list 'bloviate,' and puts "circa 1879" as the date. Maybe it's the excuse I've been waiting for to update my Collegiate (I've been worried that newer editions will drop words as they are deemed obsolete, I never thought that they would reinstate words from the nineteenth century).

the_sybil said...

I did wonder, when I first moved here, why the "coffee cake" from the supermarket didn't taste at all of coffee...

I'd certainly used the word "brunch" in the UK, but in the context of a breakfast that's so late it becomes lunch. It would never have occured to me, before moving to the US, to invite people round to share it.

Another thing I find odd from my British perspective is having what I'd consider to be cake (say banana bread or muffins) for breakfast. Somehow the idea seems like a terribly unhealthy start to the day. Which is completely illogical, as I have no problem with the idea of eating a Danish pastry or a pain chocolat for breakfast...

lynneguist said...

Or the cholesterol/calorie fest that is the full English'?

Peter said...

I remember my mother in the 1950’s using the word “brunch” to indicate a late breakfast combined with lunch. It was sometime before I realised it was not just one of her own made up-words. My wife still refers to “brunch”-usually for the meal on Sundays, which we have later than weekdays.

lynneguist said...

Don't forget to mention what dialect/country you're talking about, please!

Peter said...

Sorry! I forgot that my location does not show. My mother was brought up in the east end of London, although she would have claimed that they were too posh to be cockneys: her father was a self-employed wheelwright! When my parents married just before the war, they moved to suburban Essex.

Roger Green said...

(AmE) I've seen bloviate in print, but, to my recollection, have never used it myself. My short-hand definition of it is to act like a "blowhard", but I actually never bothered to look it up. Turned out to be more accurate that I would have imagined.

flatlander said...

Most everyone here in the (U.S.) state of Delaware knows that verb. It's what our senior senator is best known for. A Google search on "bloviating" and "Biden" turns up 24,000 hits.

Cameron said...

Over here in Rightpondia, Flatlander, Joe Biden is best known for plagiaris/zing Neil Kinnock. Perhaps interestingly (then again, perhaps not), Neil Kinnock was often known as "the Welsh windbag," no mean bloviator himself.

By the way, this post is also the first time I (ScE) have ever heard of the verb "to bloviate."

flatlander said...

About 'brunch'... it is definitely a more formal and social meal than plain breakfast with more sophisticated food. It should not be confused with 'second breakfast' which is enjoyed by hobbits, children, pregnant women, and others who are just plain hungry again later in the morning.

Albert Welch said...

Massachusetts-

I'd never come across bloviate before, but based on the context provided I would have guessed its meaning and from there its origins.

In hooking it into existing vocabulary I liken it to blowing smoke, though that often has a slight connotation of deception.