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See more synonyms for billow on Thesaurus.com
  1. a great wave or surge of the sea.
  2. any surging mass: billows of smoke.
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verb (used without object)
  1. to rise or roll in or like billows; surge.
  2. to swell out, puff up, etc., as by the action of wind: flags billowing in the breeze.
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verb (used with object)
  1. to make rise, surge, swell, or the like: A sudden wind billowed the tent alarmingly.
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Origin of billow

1545–55; < Old Norse bylgja wave, cognate with Middle Low German bulge; akin to Old English gebylgan to anger, provoke
Related formsun·der·bil·low, verb (used without object)


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Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Related Words


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.

    Leading Articles on Various Subjects

    Hugh Miller

  • 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

British Dictionary definitions for billow


  1. a large sea wave
  2. a swelling or surging mass, as of smoke or sound
  3. a large atmospheric wave, usually in the lee of a hill
  4. (plural) poetic the sea itself
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  1. to rise up, swell out, or cause to rise up or swell out
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Derived Formsbillowing, 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

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.)).

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

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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper