Recently on ELU, a question was asked about the meaning of three rhetorical terms that are obviously based on Greek: “macrologia”, “periergia” and “bomphiologia”.

The Greek etymologies of "macrologia" and "periergia" seem fairly straightforward and are summarized by the Silva Rhetoricae (Gideon Burton, rhetoric.byu.edu) entries referenced in the linked post, but Burton does not provide any etymology for "bomphiologia".

Based on my research so far, it appears that the earliest known occurrence of this word is in Richard Sherry's Treatise of Schemes and Tropes (1550, 1555). For context, Sherry seems to systematically give two versions of each rhetorical term, one in Greek and one in Latin. "Bomphiologia" is presented as the Greek equivalent of Latin "Verborum bombus". There is a suggestive similarity between the first parts of bombus and bomphiologia, but I don't know of any reason why the second "b" of bombus would change to "ph" in a longer word, and through Google Books, I found a footnote about the term bomphiologia that seems to present even more words with related meanings and similar forms:

"Bomphiologia, or Pompous Speech" [in right margin]

Others there be that fall into the contrary vice by using such bombasted66 words, as seem altogether farced67 full of wind, being a great deal too high and lofty for the matter, whereof ye may find too many in all popular rhymers.68

[Editorial footnotes:]

  1. bombasted stuffed, as with padding.
  2. farced stuffed (a cooking term).
  3. On bomphiologia, see Sherry 61. Sherry appears to be coining this term, which he also calls verborum bombus (booming words) and exemplifies by reference to Terence's braggart soldier. This is probably a slip for Plautus' Pyrgopolinices, the title character in the Miles Gloriosus, who refers to a commander of his named Bombomachides ("booming fighter," 1.14).

The Art of English Poesy, Critical Edition (original by George Puttenham, 1590; edited by Frank Whigham and Wayne A. Rebhorn, 2007), p. 345

Based on this passage, I'm wondering if bomphiologia was perhaps originally associated with words like pomp(ous) and bombast, or the name Bombomachides (which is ultimately related to the noun bombus).

To summarize, here are the three apparently distinct Greek roots that seem to me like they might possibly be relevant:

  1. Greek βόμβος (as in Latin "bombus")

    The Latin word bombus seems to be from Ancient Greek βόμβος, which is also the first element in the name Bombomachides that occurs in Plautus's play about a boastful soldier, Miles Gloriosus (but not as the name of the title character).

  2. Greek βόμβυξ (as in English "bombast")

    The Oxford English Dictionary tells me that English bombast, a variant of bombace, has an etymology that does ultimately go back to Greek, but that doesn't seem to have any certain connection to bombus:

    < Old French bombace cotton, cotton wadding < late Latin bombāce-m, accusative of bombax cotton, a corruption and transferred use of Latin bombyx silk, < Greek βόμβυξ silkworm, silk.

    The association of the English word "bombast" with "turgid language" seems to have existed at least as early as 1589, according to the OED:

    1589   T. Nashe To Students in R. Greene Menaphon Epist. sig. **   To outbraue better pens with the swelling bumbast of a bragging blanke verse.

    I don't know if we have any evidence of similar metaphorical uses of a word like bombacem or bombacium in the Latin of this century. I guess this root is technically bombyc- or bombac-, with a final velar that would have to be truncated to serve as as base for bomphiologia, but the formation of the rhetorical term seems irregular in any case, so I'm not sure I can rule out the possibility of some kind of truncation like that.

  3. Greek πομπή (as in Latin "pompa", English "pomp")

    The OED says the word "pomp" also has a Greek origin, which unsuprisingly seems to be separate from the origin of βόμβος or βόμβυξ:

    classical Latin pompa ceremonial procession, ostentation, display < ancient Greek πομπή a sending away, solemn procession, parade, display < πέμπειν to send, of unknown origin.

I don't know whether there are any other possible Greek roots that might be relevant.

Does anyone know of any further information that would shed light on the etymology of this rhetorical term? Can anyone think of an explanation for the "ph" (and the following "i") in bomphiologia? Of course, it's impossible to go back in time and look into Sherry's head to see what he was thinking when he coined the word (if that is what happened), but I thought it seemed possible that someone here would know something that might provide useful context that would increase my understanding of how the word might have been formed.

  • Not Greek, but a Latin root that might have caught Sherry's attention. Hio gape; in Smith's used to mean incoherent, disconnected. Hiandus - bawling, yelling. Also mp is found in the modern Greek for a bar: Μπαρ this is simply aspirated. – Hugh May 20 '18 at 22:31
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    Two suggestions: could it be a misprint/misspelling? Perhaps it was meant to be bomphiLologia or even bomphiLogia? Note that homeoteleuton is misspelled twice ( homotelento and homoteleto) in Sherry's book. Or perhaps it's a joke? Perhaps bomphiologia is in fact an example of bomphiologia - both hollow noise (bombus) and padded bluster (bombast)? It does seem that Sherry's whole project was experimental to some extent (see: H. W. Hildebrandt, "Sherry: Renaissance rhetorician", 1960) – Penelope Jul 6 at 7:08
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    With regard to the joke thesis: the example of the 'boasting souldiar [sic]' that Sherry points to is about his 'great gasyng wordes [sic]', not explicitly the name he references ('Bombomachides'). To this end, the opening exchange of the Miles Gloriosus has the braggart soldier rattle off imaginary names (Bombomachides being only one) to which the slave says, in an aside (and I paraphrase), "none of which ever existed". Thus, bomphiologia may itself be a "great gasyng worde", empty but for hot air. Perhaps. – Penelope Jul 6 at 7:19

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