The late David Foster Wallace at least once used the term “puff words” to describe, I assume, the type of words in the list below that are not in parentheses. What exactly did Wallace mean by “puff words”?

Puff word (non-puff word)

utilize (use)

commence (start)

prior to (before)

therefore (so)

however (but)

  • 1
    They are of course quite sesquipedalian in nature.
    – Jim
    Mar 17, 2016 at 4:20
  • I could be wrong, but I thought puff words are those which build up the person, place, or thing whom/which they describe. In other words, they almost make the person, place, or thing seem better than it really is. To puff up a presidential candidate in a newspaper column, for example, would involve praising the candidate's accomplishments and giving reasons why s/he would make a good president. From the Free Dictionary: (Journalism & Publishing) a flattering newspaper or magazine article about a person or an organization. Puff words would then be flattering words. Mar 17, 2016 at 6:51
  • 2
    Puff in this situation seems to have a lot in common with inflated, or in other words puffed up.
    – Sven Yargs
    Mar 17, 2016 at 7:24
  • 3
    Endeavor to avoid utilizing extended multisyllabic vocabulary at opportunities where monosyllabic core vocabulary suffices.
    – Hellion
    Oct 5, 2016 at 17:51
  • puffed-up - 1. feeling self-important; arrogant; pompous. 2. swollen; puffy (Dictionary.com)
    – DyingIsFun
    Oct 5, 2016 at 18:45

1 Answer 1


We can use DFW's description, "pretentious, deadening". They are words that add nothing but dead weight to prose while they inflate the seriousness of that prose (and the author).

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