Writing Prompt: the fun of holus-bolus

The Prompt: Dictionary Definition: Open up a dictionary to a random word. Define what that word means to you.

Used with permission under the Creative Commons Zero (CC0) license.

Believe it or not, I no longer have a physical copy of a dictionary in my possession. I really need to purchase some latest-and-greatest version for the sake of my dignity, but in the meantime, I’m rolling with Merriam-Webster’s word of the day (via their amazing Twitter account): holus-bolus, an adverb meaning “all at once.”

I vaguely remember reading about this word somewhere at some point in time, but I didn’t remember what it meant, so here’s what Merriam-Webster has to say about it:

“The story of holus-bolus is not a hard one to swallow. Holus-bolus originated in English dialect in the mid-19th century and is believed to be a waggish reduplication of the word bolus. Bolus is from the Greek word bōlos, meaning “lump,” and has retained that Greek meaning. In English, bolus has additionally come to mean “a large pill,” “a mass of chewed food,” or “a dose of a drug given intravenously.” Considering this “lumpish” history, it’s not hard to see how holus-bolus, a word meaning “all at once” or “all in a lump,” came about.”

I love the way this word sounds. Go ahead, say it out loud. Isn’t it fun? And couldn’t you almost guess what it means just by the way it comes out? It feels like an adjective, like I’m referring to something useless or silly, perhaps because of its audial proximity to “hocus-pocus.” Or as though it might be a cousin to “willy-nilly,” an adverb with the same devil-may-care approach to life. While you could (and indeed likely do) just settle on “all at once,” that phrase doesn’t have the same hand-waving flair to it that “holus-bolus” has. And as it’s partially derived by a fun reduplication of “bolus” anyway, why not give it its irreverent due?

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