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"Bumptious" means conceited or pompous. Does the word “bumption” exist to describe such a trait?

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    Edit your question. Gumption or bumption?
    – Řídící
    Commented Apr 5, 2019 at 17:58
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    Bumptious is an adjective, bumptiousness is the noun. Commented Apr 5, 2019 at 18:17
  • Bumtiousness, I'm afraid, is the not-very-neat word that does exist. I'd love there to be a word "gumtious", but this doesn't exist! Commented Apr 5, 2019 at 18:30
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    The word bumption has appeared in print in the past. See, for example, "Boundless Bumption," an editorial in The Bible Champion (August 1918): "Such disgusting self-conceit is so offensive to the great multitude of educated Christians, that it might fitly be termed Unmitigated Gall. The Bible Champion would better characterize it as Boundless Bumption." Like bumptiousness, bumption seems to mean "conceitedness."
    – Sven Yargs
    Commented Apr 5, 2019 at 20:21
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    ...but in the Dayton chapter notes of Banking: Journal of the American Bankers Association (June 1912), the term is used in a considerably more positive sense, in a slogan that is "emblazoned on [a shield] on the wall": "Brains, bumption, bullion, bankers and borrowers make business." Here, bumption seems to mean something like "nerve" or "self-confidence" or "gumption."
    – Sven Yargs
    Commented Apr 5, 2019 at 20:39

2 Answers 2

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Instances of 'bumption' in the wild

The vast majority of matches that Google Books and Elephind searches generate are false positives involving misreadings of line-broken occurrences of assumption, consumption, presumption, or resumption.

Nevertheless, true occurrences of bumption do sometimes occur, albeit not always in situations where the intended meaning is (as one might expect) "conceit." The earliest match I've been able to find is from "Topical Dots," in the [Hobart, Tasmania] Mercury (May 10, 1879):

Higgins expounded his chosen text and delivered himself of a voluminous section from the Scripture of scurril, attaching and vilifying a whole population who had somehow incurred his displeasure. Perhaps his insufferable bumption did'nt go down, or his vanity got hurt, or his pretentious assumption got discounted, for Tasmania is not a good market for mock Turtle. Gentlemen usually got along well enough ; but Higginses—Bah!

The meaning of bumption here is clearly "conceit"—but the writer's tendency to exceed the bounds of contemporaneously accepted vocabulary to suit his purposes is evident in his use of scurril as a noun (evidently back-formed from scurrilous) in the sentence before the one in which bumption appears.

Next, from "Rural Tasmania," in the Launceston [Tasmania] Examiner (July 30, 1887):

Some time ago down south I interviewed a gentleman who owns, I think, the largest extent of irrigated land in Tasmania, as well as the most productive. He was, at the time, in the House, member for this district, and so perhaps a little high in the collar as M.'sP. are apt to be. He said, after introduction, "Ah, Mr. —— I have expected a call from you, sit down. Now, Mr. ——, some of my friends say I have fish on the brain, and others say I have water on the brain." Though, as a rule, diffident in the presence of important people, temptation got hold on me; so I replied, cutting him short, "Mr. ——, there's nothing amiss in those fancies, for the fish couldn't get along well without the water—they'd go bad." The good man wanted to state two texts, favourites of his, on which to elaborate for my instruction, viz : that he, as a salmon commissioner, took a deep interest in pisciculture, and that he was a believer in and practiser of irrigation. And a very worthy colonist he is too, producing more from a given area than any other man I know of here; and employing on the whole more labour. We got along well after this shot at assertive bumption.

In this second instance—also from Tasmania—bumption again seems to mean "conceit." The Tasmanian connection between the earliest two matches for bumption is striking, but none of the subsequent 14 matches I found are from there.

From Ebenezer Smith, "A Paean," in The Season's Musings (1888):

Henceforth, forever, I dispense / With all attention from Pretence; / And scorn alike their grace and bumption, / Whose animalcular presumption / So shames our name, and brings disgrace / On our time honoured Native place, / That Truth exclaims, with scornful stare, / 'Stands this where once stood honest Ayr'?

Smith's choice of bumption here owes a great deal, I suspect, to the demands of meter and rhyme. The meaning of bumption he has in mind is obscure to me, as he presents it in opposition to "grace."

From an identified piece (circa 1890) by H. Milburn McCarty, quoted in "Best of Breed: Col. H. Milburn McCarty as a Country Editor," in The Filson Club History Quarterly (January 1989):

Watterson thinks he could make a model country newspaper—in the which he is much mistaken. A man may succeed in the city and fail in the country. It is not necessary to have much brains to make a popular city paper. As evidence see the Cincinnati Enquirer. Plenty of money is all that is needed. But a country editor, to be popular and prosperous, must have brains, and bumption, and anagosity. Watterson is not deficient in brains, and at times has displayed bumption ; but he is totally deficient in the anagosity that is indispensable to successfully propel long primer type and a Washington hand press.

McCarty's intended meaning for bumption may be entirely idiosyncratic, but it seems to have more to do with "nerve" or "self-confidence" than with "conceit." With regard to anagosity, the author of this article remarks,

"Anagosity" seems to have been a McCarty invention. Like Humpty Dumpty, whom Alice meets in Through the Looking Glass, McCarty expected words to mean just what he wanted them to mean.

McCarty died in 1892.

From Elizabeth Bellamy, "The Heygood Tea Service: A Picture of Life in the South," in The Youth's Companion (Boston, Massachusetts, March 19, 1891):

"Does the Colonel know? Oh, what is he going to do?"

"He doan' know, honey. He's a-settin' by de dinin'-room fiah, an' I ain' got de bumption ter tell him. I ain' had de sperit fur nothin' but ter set up an' hurl my 'pinion at Calamus ; an' all de comfort he kin gimme is jes' ter say cawntinual, 'Dasso.' dasso.' I'm dat thankful you is come, honey, fur you kin tell the Colonel."

This instance involves use of bumption in dialogue as a malaprop for gumption, for comic effect.

From "Canada Needs Discipline," in the Wichita [Kansas] Daily Eagle (June 20, 1899):

The Lawrence [Kansas] Journal says that the Eagle is quarreling with Canada because a whole lot of her people can't speak English, and then the esteemed [newspaper] continues by saying that "there are whole counties, or parishes, in Louisiana in which the English language is seldom heard. And those people and their ancestors havt been there all the time since long before we bought their country." The Eagle is not quarreling with Canada because the Canuck can't talk United States, but because of the claim that the people of Canada are Anglo-Saxon or English. What we said is: Ontario is essentially American, Quebec wholly French, and British Columbia English. The balance of the Dominion is territories largely of mixed Indian and French, Scandanavians anu the like. The Canuck is bumption and needs either discipline or absorption, either snubbing or annexation. Canada would prosper and in time grow modest under the tutelage of Uncle Sam.

This rather astonishing item contains multiple spelling errors, so it is possible that a semiliterate or otherwise incompetent typesetter mistook bumptious for bumption in the manuscript; on the other hand, the same newspaper referred to Kaiser Wilhelm as "Bumption Bill" a year and a half earlier, so bumption may simply have been an accepted word at this publication. In any event, the word bumption appears in a syntactical setting where bumptious would have made more sense.

From an advertisement or Woods Peppermint Cure, in the [Sydney, New South Wales] Evening News (August 22, 1908):

If you have the slightest bumption, / You won't take it for presumption / To be warned against consumption / In its stages immature.

For a cough or cold may breed it, / Should you scorn and never heed it, / And the best thing to [i]mpede it / Is Woods' Peppermint Cure.

The intended meaning of bumption here is unclear to me. Again the writer's decision to use it seems to have been driven by considerations of rhyme, more than anything else.

From J.A. Dungan, "A Nation-wide Epidemic" in The Eclectic Medical Journal (March 1911):

Some person, ignorant as to whether the Christianity or the Science was supposed to do the good [in Christian Science], came along at the right moment with a broad and brilliant smile, which nothing in the circumstances but fanatical faith could inspire, and nothing but monumental bumption keep going, and converted him.

This is another strong example of bumption used in the sense of "conceit."

From F. H. Stachler, "Dayton" in the "Institute Chaptergrams" section of Banking: Journal of the American Bankers Association (June 1912):

Dayton chapter closed the short season since its organization with a banquet at which 200 bankers were present as guests of President Patterson of the N. C. R. The hall was appropriately decorated with the sentiments of the get-together meeting emblazoned on shields on the wall:

"Bankers are the backers of business." "Capital, labor and management make business." "Money and good works should go together." "Bankers control the peace of the world." "Brains, bumption, bullion, bankers and borrowers make business."

This example uses bumption in a very positive sense, with a meaning similar to "gumption."

From "The Back Yard Solves Living Cost Problem" in the Sacramento [California] Union (February 4, 1917):

Digging a living from the soil rather than from tin cans is a necessity for the best development of American life and not a fad. The working hours under modern conditions make it possible for laborers and salaried men, who have the bumption and the will, to improve living conditions for their families, and at the same time keep in reach of the payroll.

As in the earlier Dayton, Ohio, example, this instance uses bumption in a situation where one might have expected to see gumption. The B on a standard typewriter keyboard is adjacent to the G key, so it may simply be a typo, but it seems to me at least as likely that some English speakers use bumption as a variant form of gumption with essentially the same meaning.

From "Boundless Bumption," in The Bible Champion (August 1918):

A handful of men of ordinary ability, meager attainments, and nominal religion, declare themselves to be the chief representatives of world scholarship and piety. Such disgusting self-conceit is so offensive to the great multitude of educated Christians, that it might fitly be termed Unmitigated Gall. The Bible Champion would better characterize it as Boundless Bumption."

...

It is time for some plain speaking and stern dealing with the Apostles of Bumption. We have made the offer, before a great audience of learned and educated men, to furnish ten great Scholars who are Evangelical, for every one who is Infidel. We were not challenged then, nor have been since.

Here bumption again means roughly "arrogance, conceit, temerity, or audacity." In a religious context, such a meaning acquires an even more negative coloration than it normally would, as a form of sinfulness.

From M. R. B., "The Velvet Hammer," in the [Golden, Colorado] Oredigger (November 14, 1921):

I've taken up a lot of space—I'll say it now or die一that Prof. is always bound to have a twinkle in his eye. He’s got a lot of gumption—thinks we all should be the same—but bumption we don't understand; he's made us all too tame. Perhaps I've said enough for now, I’ll finish in a thrice, tho I can’t say that my results are "accurate and nice."

This instance was almost certainly prompted by considerations of rhyme.

From "The Essentials of Success," in the Bartlett [Texas] Tribune and News (May 18, 1928):

A concern might have an extremely well managed store. But if its policy was such that people were not induced to visit it, and if its salespeople had so little bumption that they could not make sales when the people did get there, that concern would never make a go of it.

This may be another instance of bumption as "gumption," although it may instead be read as meaning something like "initiative" or "assertiveness" or "enterprise."

From an unidentified article in The Indian Literary Review, volume 1 (1979) [combined snippets]:

Still, Eddie Trevor remains on the Plantation as the unhappy reminder of the Anglo-Indian presence. Henry is especially sensitive to him, since he was the ex-lover of Ruby. To him Eddie is 'bumption'. He was 'increasingly more cocky, more sure of himself... and always, always playing to the imaginary gallery.' Eddie had a tendency to either 'cheek you or to kowtow'. And most irritatingly for Henry, he uses so many foul words in so many languages for the coolies. Henry thinks that Eddie is always doing things that a man would do for a dare, as though he was forever trying to prove himself. It is true that Eddie has to prove to himself all the time. He belongs to the community the white man would simply ignore, or take for granted otherwise.

It seems to me that bumption is syntactically misplaced in this example, and that bumptious would have been a better choice.

And from William Safire, "The State of the Union, Today," in the Santa Cruz [California] Sentinel (January 6, 1991):

With characteristic bumption, White House chief of staff John Sununu stole a hallowed tradition from the speaker of the House and announced that the president would be the Congress's guest on Jan. 28.

Given that Safire was a fairly conservative editorialist—as well as a writer very conscious of shades of meaning—I can't think that he intended to use bumption here in the sense of "arrogance or conceit"; more likely, he intended it in its other sense of "boldness" or "aggressiveness" or "assertiveness."


'Bumption' as a literary surname, nickname, etc.

The word also appears occasionally as a tendentious surname or nickname. For example, from W. Henry Wills, The Ninth of June (1856), serialized in Novels and Tales:

"O, you needn't look. The big fellow just got out calls himself Robert Bumption, Esquire; booked in London. The old gentleman in black is Doctor Bole of Matlock; and the tall chap is Mr. Marsden, a counsellor. The box-seat is Bayttam's clerk from Darby, in charge of witnesses for to-morrow's trial."

...

The heavy despairing look which Marsden constantly cast toward the door, left him when he began to cross-examine Mr. Knolliver. The legal mind lighted up at the prospect of reducing this burly witness to the smallest dimensions. It delighted to extract confessions of his various disguises and aliases; of having taken the name of Nobble, and the character of an Eastern Delegate; of having spoken frequently at seditious meetings; of having also made himself known, on the road, as Squire Bumption, a visiting justice of twenty years' standing.

From "Wit and Wisdom" in the [Sycamore, Illinois] True Republican (August 26, 1896), reprinted from the Detroit [Michigan] Free Press:

First Chum— Ill never speak to that Fred Bumption again. He had the audacity to back out of the parlor the other night throwing kisses at me."

Second Chum—Why, the heartless creature! And you right there within reach."

From "American Pusillanimity," in the Wichita [Kansas] Daily Eagle (December 19, 1897):

A week or two ago, a half-breed Dutchman was imprisoned in Haiti, whereupon Bumption Bill, emperor of Germany, charged Haiti five thousand dollars a day for such imprisonment and at the muzzle of some big Krupp guns gave the Haitian president just twenty-four hours in which to settle.

From a list of registered Irish terriers in American Kennel Club Stud Book Register, volume 23 (1907):

RUFUS HENLEY ... By Joe Lee, out of Rosemary, by Breda Muddler, out of Betsy Rigge, by Farndon Mixer, out of Belle Winnie; Breda Muddler by Breda Mixer, out of Iris; Joe Lee by Jackowich, out of Biddy Fancy, by Bumption Blarney, out of Venus; Jackowich by Brickbay, out of Bumptious Biddy.

The cast of characters in Arnold Bennett, The Strange Vanguard: A Fantasia includes a married couple named Mr. and Mrs. Bumption. In the book, Mr. Bumption is a butler employed by Lord Furber.

From an unidentified story in The Right Review (1936):

Sitting alongside Motsah was Bill Bumption, a semitic-looking young man who claimed to be descended from the armigerous Bumptions of Northumberland.

From "'Uncle Tom's Cabin' Ends Season Saturday Night," in the Kent [Ohio] State University Summer News (August 9, 1962):

Although the play is serious in its purpose, it is not without its lighter moments. The classic features such famous comic roles as Bumption Cute and the oily lawyer, Marks.

The collection of proper names containing Bumption is surprisingly extensive, suggesting that the word carries some suggestive meaning even for people who may never have encountered the lowercase noun in their literary travels.


Conclusion

I found 16 matches for bumption as a noun, across a period from 1879 to 1991. As detailed above, these matches break out into four main categories: occasions where bumption means "conceit, arrogance, temerity, or audacity" (four instances); occasions where bumption means "gumption, nerve, boldness, self-confidence, ambition, assertiveness, or aggressiveness" (six occurrences); occurrences where bumption seems to have been erroneously used in place of bumptious (two instances); and occurrences where bumption for to meet the needs of meter and rhyme, but where the meaning is obscure (three instances).

Ten evidently intentional and meaningful instances of a word's use isn't many over a period of 113 years, and even that scanty record is complicated by the fact that writers have used the word to express two quite different meanings. Nevertheless, in my view, bumption is indeed a word, and its absence from the 1971 full-length Oxford English Dictionary is attributable to the dictionary's having failed to notice its multiple occurrences in the wild—not to the OED's having made a judicious determination that the word, despite having appeared multiple times, isn't real.

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No.

"Bumptious" is jocular 19th-century pseudo-Latin, directly from period slang senses of "bump" rather than anything actually Latin (bumpdere? bumere?) that would have created the form "bumption". As such, its actual noun form—when anyone would want it—is "bumptiousness".

As Mr Yargs pointed out above, however, that hasn't stopped some wags from occasionally coining "bumption", whether to fill a rhetorical need (as in his examples) or out of confusion with the Scots term "gumption". You could do so again, if "bumptiousness" doesn't fit your meter or sth.

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