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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 billowing
  • Nearby, a stack of giant round metal baskets sits atop billowing jets of steam.
  • IT had all the trappings of a low-rider showdown: jacked-up sound systems, revving engines and billowing clouds of exhaust smoke.
  • Here, an underwater view captures the billowing tentacles of a lion's mane jellyfish.
  • In the upper left of this photograph, faint billowing shapes can be seen in the outer regions of an elliptical galaxy.
  • It hugged the ocean and dispersed instead of billowing.
  • Ranged about the stage alone or in small groups, they seem to tether that open space as if it were the billowing folds of a tent.
  • These billowing trousers under a simple top and a tight denim mini are mash-up worthy of a fashion hermaphrodite.
  • Ball gowns with billowing skirts had tops as sheer as stockings decorated with a few strategically placed jewels.
  • The steam billowing up around the manhole cover in the street is a dead giveaway.
  • It was hazy, already sweltering and the billowing emission from a steampipe swirled depressingly.
British Dictionary definitions for billowing


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 billowing



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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