Burnt Toast Editorial

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Category Archive:ABC of Bumptious Beasts

Irritatingly bumptious? The etymology of our #wonderword of the week 

The ABC of Bumptious Beasts. Poems, Gail Kredenser (Harlequin Quist), 1966.

I suppose if we’re being honest we would all confess to being a tad bumptious on occasion, say, perhaps when the wind is blowing in the wrong direction. It’s also highly likely that we’ve encountered someone who is irritatingly self-assertive all the damn time: the sort of person who’s never wrong and is more than eager to let everyone know.

Certainly such characters are found depicted in novels by Dickens and Trollope or in Ealing comedy films of the 1940s, 50s and 60s and those of the Carry On comedies. Contemporaries which spring to mind as fitting the definition of the word are John Bercow (Speaker of the House of Commons), Boris Johnson (now British PM), Donald J. Trump (President of the United States of America), Morrissey (singer-songwriter, now turned writer of fiction), Kanye West (giant ego), Piers Morgan (another giant ego) and Ricky Gervais, who in real life and in fictional representation as David Brent, reveals an ego the size of a planet.

Synonyms of bumptious are equally splendid: swollen-headed, puffed-up, sententious, pontificating, overweening, strutting, cocky, snooty, uppity. You get my drift? 

Bumptious is as bumptious does: a word that perfectly signifies its meaning when pronounced. A compound of the words “bump” and “fractious” its etymological origin believed to be an expression coined by students at Cambridge University in the nineteenth century ¹ to denote those who were deemed “showy” – a social sin far greater than most in the best social circles. 

¹ Bristed, Charles Astor, Five Years in an English University, 3rd ed., (G. P. Putnam & Sons), 1873, p. 193.