Try Our Apps


90s Slang You Should Know


[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. 2017.
Cite This Source
Examples from the Web for billow
Historical Examples
  • With a great tumult the throng rose, a billow of life, the white handkerchiefs flying foam-like on its crest.

  • There was a gentle flash of quick light that was smothered by a billow of smoke.

    History Repeats George Oliver Smith
  • Now and then, when standing on the brink of some table-rock, the plunge of a billow underneath caused a sensible tremor.

  • She herself—I could see that—was being undermined, as with a billow.

  • Brigade after brigade swung by to the weird music of their bands—billow after billow of brown, red, and blue uniforms.

    The Ship Dwellers Albert Bigelow Paine
  • When she said that, the two aunts swept on her like a billow and bore her, dog and all, up-stairs to her room.

    Bud Neil Munro
  • Losing his footing and deprived of grip at the same instant, Tom Halstead rose on the billow as it swept along.

    The Motor Boat Club in Florida H. Irving Hancock
  • The sea-gulls have risen from the billow, and are turning and wheeling in the air.

    Alas! Rhoda Broughton
  • We fed our engines, and under a billow of black smoke ran down to the Minnesota.

    The Long Roll Mary Johnston
  • Oh, she shall be the very bird of the sea—the girl of the billow, Rob!

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
Cite This Source
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.


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

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
Cite This Source

Word of the Day

Difficulty index for billow

Some English speakers likely know this word

Word Value for billow

Scrabble Words With Friends

Nearby words for billow