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The Glossary of Useful Words 9: ‘pullulate’

A word I learned from my late wife Marianne, and which she used quite frequently in her everyday discourse, is the verb ‘pullulate’, defined in full by the OED as follows:

  1. trans. To engender, bring into existence; to cause to spring up abundantly or multiply. Now rare.
  2. intr.
    a.To be developed or produced as offspring; to spring up abundantly, multiply.
    b. To teem, swarm. Freq. with with.
  3. intr.
    a. Of a seed, plant, etc.: to germinate, to put out shoots or buds. Obs.
    b. Of a bud, shoot, propagule, etc.: to appear; to sprout, grow. Obs.
  4. intr. Med. To develop growths; to proliferate. Obs. rare.
  5. intr. Of a cell or animal, esp. a pathogenic organism: to breed, multiply; to reproduce prolifically.
    Derivatives
    pullulating adj. budding, sprouting, flourishing.

Origin: A borrowing from Latin. Etymons: Latin pullulāt-, pullulāre.Etymology: < classical Latin pullulāt-, past participial stem (see -ate suffix3) of pullulāre to send forth new growth, to sprout, to sprout out, spring forth < pullulus young nestling or chick, young shoot or sprout < pullus young of any animal, chick (see pull n.2) + -ulus -ulus suffix. Compare French pulluler (c1350 in Middle French in sense 2a, first half of the 15th cent. in sense 3b, end of the 15th cent. in sense 2b; the transitive use in sense 1 is apparently not paralleled in French before 1764), Italian pullulare (1313).

Marianne (petnames Mooyin, Mumpkin) used it most often in meaning 2b and in the derivative adjective. Here is a paragraph containing the word as used by me in a recent e-mail message from Cali (Colombia), where I stayed for a week and reported on what I observed:

“The people here have been extremely nice and welcoming. The sponsor [of my lecture], Universidad del Valle, put me up in a first-class hotel and paid all my other trip expenses. Especially memorable was an iguana I saw at the University’s park yesterday. A truly splendid creature! The city is pullulating with people and animals and vegetation.”

As I wrote the sentence with ‘pulluate’, I thought of my Mooyin––as always––and of her beautiful speech.

MICHAEL SHAPIRO

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