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According to MW, full-blown means

having all of the qualities that are associated with a particular thing or type of person : fully developed

Having used it in this sense recently and noting its similarity (in sound and meaning) to the more easily explainable full-grown, I wondered why blown is in full-blown.

My first suspicion was the blown was an analogy to the product of some craft, like glass-blowing. I was unable to find an entry dedicated to full-blown on Etymonline, though I did find some entries that referred to it, particularly blow v.2:

"to bloom, blossom" (intransitive), from Old English blowan "to flower, blossom, flourish," from Proto-Germanic *blæ- (cf. Old Saxon bloian, Old Frisian bloia, Middle Dutch and Dutch bloeien, Old High German bluoen, German blühen), from PIE *bhle-, extended form of *bhel- (2) "to blow, inflate, swell" (see bole). This word is the source of the blown in full-blown.

Google nGrams suggests that a horticultural origin may make sense with full-blown. The oldest reference to full-blown I found via nGrams was from "Satirical, humourous & familiar pieces" printed by G.Nicholson and Co., 1795:

"You must know that in my person I am tall and thin, with a fair complexion and light flaxen hair; but of such extreme susceptibility of shame, that, on the smallest subject of confusion, my blood all rushes into my cheeks, and I appear a perfect full-blown rose.

Assuming the origin of full-blown is from this sense of blooming (earlier or contradictory examples welcome), are there other uses of blow or blown familiar to the modern ear that retain or allude to this meaning?

  • It tends to be used in this sense in Britain, often medically. Having full-blown influenza is a far worse situation than having a mild 'touch of the flu'. Your question I believe largely answers itself, but a good one nonetheless. – WS2 Mar 1 '14 at 7:28
  • Thanks. It's the uniqueness of this use that most interests me. Most other uses of blow I can think of (blow-dry, blown to kingdom come, blow me down) have more in common with the "move air" definition in Etymonline. Some idioms I feel I'm reaching for it when I associate them with either but less so with "move air," namely: to blow up (an image) (an "air" argument for this might be a logo on the end of a balloon gets blown up or enlarged with the balloon), and to a lesser extent, to be blown out of proportion. Are there more idioms where blow can be traced back to this "bloom"? – user39720 Mar 1 '14 at 16:38
  • Sometimes people will refer to a very heavy and enjoyable meal as a 'real blow out'; possibly because your stomach feels as if someone has blown it up with a bicycle pump! – WS2 Mar 1 '14 at 20:27
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The OED defines full-blown as ‘filled with wind, puffed out (lit. and fig.)’. The contemporary Oxford Dictionaries defines it as ‘fully developed’.

The OED’s earliest citation is from 1615:

With cheeks full blowne Each man will wish the case had beene his owne.

The earliest floral use comes later in the same century:

Some did the Way with full-blown Roses spread.

The OED’s etymological note on the term refers to definition 22a of ‘blow’:

To swell (up or out) by sending a current of air into; to inflate, puff up.

One current use is in the expression full-blown AIDS.

  • There's some conflicting info between this and the OP's sources. Could the meanings have arisen simultaneously? – marcellothearcane Jul 2 '17 at 20:09
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To blow is certainly the verb that is used when a rose goes from bud to bloom, (hence becoming full-blown); "One thing is certain, and the Rest is Lies/ The Flower that once has blown forever dies." (Fitzgerald, Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, XXVIII; pointless debate continues whether this is actually a free translation or Fitzgerald writing his own poem on the same subject as the original). The OED has citations from 1000 AD on, and believes this is the meaning in Shakespeare's "I know a bank whereon the wild thyme blows", though the only citation where the word unambiguously means 'blossom' is "April, May, and June, while that trees blowen." from 1400. The problem is that flowers do grow, blossom, and dance in the wind; any of the three can be described as blowing, even if a poet should care about the difference.

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"Unambiguously"? How about Thomas Gray's line from "Ode on the Death of a Favorite Cat"-- 'Twas on a lofty vase's side Where China's gayest art had dyed The azure flowers that blow.

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