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News Maryland

In a word: Fustian

Each week The Sun's John McIntyre presents a moderately obscure but evocative word with which you may not be familiar — another brick to add to the wall of your working vocabulary. This week's word:

FUSTIAN

If you come across a piece of writing that is so over-the-top, so bombastic, so pompous and pretentious that it seems more like upholstery than writing, there's a label you can pin on it: fustian (pronounced FUST-yun or FUSS-chen).

Fustian was originally a coarse cloth, later a higher-grade twill. The word comes into English from the French fustaigne. The etymology is conjectural, but one explanation is that it derives from the medieval Latin fustaneum, from pannus fustaneus, "cloth from Fostat," a suburb of Cairo where the stuff was manufactured.

A further conjecture is that the sense progressed from mere cloth to bombast because fustian was used to cover pillows and cushions, and thus took on a sense of padding.

Whatever the origin of the word, we recognize the verbal kind when we see the turgidity.

Example: From Georgette Heyer's The Grand Sophy: "Pooh!" said Sophy. "Mind your horses, Charles, and don't talk fustian to me."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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