Bloviator, Blow Hard, Warren Harding

Warren G. Harding half-length portrait, standi...
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I wrote this morning to an impending victim of my presence today at a writers’ lunch meeting that I would rather simply be part of the circle than to hold forth with my own personal bloviation.

Then I got to wondering about the word bloviation. What could the root possibly be? It sounded neither latin or greek.

Turns out, it’s not a new word, but has been picked up and tossed around via the web so it has been dusted off from the bin of history and found more than its share of speakers and writers to whom it might apply. I try not to be counted among them.

The term was coined around 1879, a mock-latinized form of the word blow, meaning in this case, to boast, described as follows:

To bloviate (pronounced BLOW-vee-ayt) is to speak or write overexpansively or with undue grandiosity. It suggests a derivation from to blow, meaning to boast. The term has gained some currency through distribution over Web chat forums and on Web sites. American writer H. L. Mencken, always bordering on bloviation himself, described a less interesting bloviator, President Warren G. Harding (and I love this, read aloud, with indignant contempt in a most bloviating, pompous tone of voice):

“He writes the worst English that I have ever encountered. It reminds me of a string of wet sponges; it reminds me of tattered washing on the line; it reminds me of stale bean soup, of college yells, of dogs barking idiotically through endless nights. It is so bad that a sort of grandeur creeps into it. It drags itself out of the dark abyss of pish, and crawls insanely up the topmost pinnacle of posh. It is rumble and bumble. It is flap and doodle. It is balder and dash.”

I suppose a close relative would be the new word, coined just this instant (far as I know):


Of which I am at times guilty as charged. And will hush.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. My memory might be failing me, but I seem to remember that the ice skating coils in the fountain in front of the U.S. Capitol — not the ice skating “pond” itself, just the coils that freeze the water — are named after Warren G. Harding. A fitting memorial, if such is the case. I will have to double-check the next time I am in D.C.

  2. Or the ice skating coils might be dedicated to President Calvin Coolidge…that would be even more appropriate, given his last name!