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  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)

Synonyms for billow

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

Related Words for billowing

undulate, bloat, bulge, roll, balloon, rock, bounce, wave, toss, belly, pitch, ripple, heave, swell

Examples from the Web for billowing

Contemporary Examples of billowing

Historical Examples of billowing

British Dictionary definitions for billowing


  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 for billow

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 billowing



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