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[bil-oh] /ˈbɪl oʊ/
a great wave or surge of the sea.
any surging mass:
billows of smoke.
verb (used without object)
to rise or roll in or like billows; surge.
to swell out, puff up, etc., as by the action of wind:
flags billowing in the breeze.
verb (used with object)
to make rise, surge, swell, or the like:
A sudden wind billowed the tent alarmingly.
Origin of billow
1545-55; < Old Norse bylgja wave, cognate with Middle Low German bulge; akin to Old English gebylgan to anger, provoke
Related forms
underbillow, verb (used without object)
1. swell, breaker, crest, roller, whitecap. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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Examples from the Web for billow
Historical Examples
  • They are in circumstances in which the ripple passes into the wavelet, and the wavelet into the billow.

  • It flared briefly and let out with a billow of thick red smoke.

    Highways in Hiding George Oliver Smith
  • Oh, the wreck is on the billow; hasten with the means of safety.

  • The billow and the wind And the still waters will sweep us away Mercilessly!

    Life Immovable Kostes Palamas
  • The interior of the house was a billow of red, white, and blue.

    The Clansman Thomas Dixon
  • There was a gentle flash of quick light that was smothered by a billow of smoke.

    History Repeats George Oliver Smith
  • Already the distant roar of the billow was heard, proving that it had begun to break.

    Blown to Bits R.M. Ballantyne
  • Now she was hid from sight in the trough of the sea, now she rose to the summit of a billow.

    Paddy Finn W. H. G. Kingston
  • Then there was a bound, as if the boat had been shot from a catapult, and the billow fell.

    The Island Queen R.M. Ballantyne
  • Here he was launched on the shingle by a billow, and washed high up on the beach.

    The Lifeboat R.M. Ballantyne
British Dictionary definitions for billow


a large sea wave
a swelling or surging mass, as of smoke or sound
a large atmospheric wave, usually in the lee of a hill
(pl) (poetic) the sea itself
to rise up, swell out, or cause to rise up or swell out
Derived Forms
billowing, adjective, noun
Word Origin
C16: from Old Norse bylgja; related to Swedish bōlja, Danish bölg, Middle High German bulge; see bellow, belly
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for billow

1550s, perhaps older in dialectal use, from Old Norse bylgja "a wave, a billow," from Proto-Germanic *bulgjan (cf. Middle High German bulge "billow, bag"), from PIE *bhelgh- "to swell" (see belly (n.)).


1590s, from billow (n.). Related: Billowed; billowing.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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