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buxom

July 30, 2016

I was thinking today, for no reason I can pinpoint, about the word buxom. It seems to be one of those adjectives that is only ever applied to one sex. If a woman is described as buxom it means that she is well-built, curvy, and large-breasted. But the meaning of this word has undergone a surprising change over the centuries. In Chaucer’s time (late fourteenth century) it meant ‘obedient’. I remember the line from The Merchant’s Tale, which I did for A-level: “For who can be so buxom as a wyf’? Presumably this means that the quality men most prize in women has shifted from obedience in the Middle Ages to large breasts today. Interesting cultural change there… 

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