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[bil-oh] /ˈbɪl oʊ/
a great wave or surge of the sea.
any surging mass:
billows of smoke.
verb (used without object)
to rise or roll in or like billows; surge.
to swell out, puff up, etc., as by the action of wind:
flags billowing in the breeze.
verb (used with object)
to make rise, surge, swell, or the like:
A sudden wind billowed the tent alarmingly.
Origin of billow
1545-55; < Old Norse bylgja wave, cognate with Middle Low German bulge; akin to Old English gebylgan to anger, provoke
Related forms
underbillow, verb (used without object)
1. swell, breaker, crest, roller, whitecap. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the web for billow
  • Curtains, for example, still billow in cold showers.
  • What is more, only benign gaz are emitted in the atmosphere, and can billow away without damaging the ozone layer.
  • Flag, supported by wires, appears to billow in the airless lunar environment.
  • Cackle as huge clouds of cold-sublimating gas billow forth.
  • Dresses float from empire waists or smocked yokes, or billow out over fancy petticoats.
  • Air currents cause the curtains to billow gently so that visitors may have to push the cloth away as they progress.
  • But by the time the workers got the tarp on the field, the wind was making it billow.
  • And he plays quietly, leaving room for silence to billow out between his phrases.
  • Thousands of swaths of pleated nylon were unfurled to bob and billow in the breeze.
  • For instance, jeans that fit well at the hips may billow around the legs.
British Dictionary definitions for billow


a large sea wave
a swelling or surging mass, as of smoke or sound
a large atmospheric wave, usually in the lee of a hill
(pl) (poetic) the sea itself
to rise up, swell out, or cause to rise up or swell out
Derived Forms
billowing, adjective, noun
Word Origin
C16: from Old Norse bylgja; related to Swedish bōlja, Danish bölg, Middle High German bulge; see bellow, belly
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for billow

1550s, perhaps older in dialectal use, from Old Norse bylgja "a wave, a billow," from Proto-Germanic *bulgjan (cf. Middle High German bulge "billow, bag"), from PIE *bhelgh- "to swell" (see belly (n.)).


1590s, from billow (n.). Related: Billowed; billowing.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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