Open main menu




From Old Norse bylgja[1], from Proto-Germanic *bulgijǭ. Cognates include Danish - and Norwegian Bokmål bølge, Norwegian Nynorsk bylgje, Middle High German bulga and Low German bulge.



billow (plural billows)

  1. A large wave, swell, surge, or undulating mass of something, such as water, smoke, fabric or sound
    • Cowper
      whom the winds waft where'er the billows roll
    • 1851, Herman Melville, Moby Dick, Chapter 9:
      But at that moment he is sprung upon by a panther billow leaping over the bulwarks. Wave after wave thus leaps into the ship ...
    • 1873, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, "The Brook and the Wave" in Birds of Passage:
      And the brooklet has found the billow / Though they flowed so far apart.
    • 1893 August, Rudyard Kipling, "Seal Lullaby", in "The White Seal", National Review.
      Where billow meets billow, there soft be thy pillow; / Ah, weary wee flipperling, curl at thy ease!
    • 1922, Clark Ashton Smith, The Caravan:
      Have the swirling sands engulfed them, on a noon of storm when the desert rose like the sea, and rolled its tawny billows on the walled gardens of the green and fragrant lands?



billow (third-person singular simple present billows, present participle billowing, simple past and past participle billowed)

  1. To surge or roll in billows
    • 1920, Peter B. Kyne, chapter 2, in The Understanding Heart:
      During the preceding afternoon a heavy North Pacific fog had blown in … Scudding eastward from the ocean, it had crept up and over the redwood-studded crests of the Coast Range mountains, [] , billowing steadily eastward, it had rolled up the western slopes of the Siskiyou Range, []
    • 1942, Emily Carr, The Book of Small, “Chain Gang,”[1]
      The nuns' veils billowed and flapped behind the snaky line of girls as if the sisters were shooing the serpent from the Garden of Eden.
  2. To swell out or bulge
    • 1936, Margaret Mitchell, chapter I, in Gone with the Wind[2]:
      Her new green flowered-muslin dress spread its twelve yards of billowing material over her hoops and exactly matched the flat-heeled green morocco slippers her father had recently brought her from Atlanta.
    • 1983, Peter De Vries, chapter 9, in Slouching Towards Kalamazoo, page 125:
      She had changed her auburn hair. Instead of wearing it in a billowing puff over her brow, she had gathered it into a ponytail, secured with a length of yellow yarn.