The Grammarphobia Blog

Pompous circumstance

Q: Is there any difference between “pomposity” and “pompousness”? Different origins, shades of meaning, antiquity, geographical uses? Is one more pompous than the other?

A: We don’t see much, if any, difference in meaning between these two words, though “pomposity” seems to be a lot more popular than “pompousness.”

Here’s the Google scorecard: “pomposity,” 392,000 hits, versus “pompousness,” 79,600.

In fact, Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed.) has a separate entry for “pomposity,” but lists “pompousness” only within its entry for “pompous.”

Merriam-Webster’s defines “pomposity” as  “pompous demeanor, speech, or behavior” as well as “a pompous gesture, habit, or act.”

M-W doesn’t include a definition of “pompousness,” but the Oxford English Dictionary defines it as “the quality or condition of being pompous; pomposity.”

If you can detect a significant difference between these two words, you have a better nose than we do.

As for antiquity, both “pomposity” and “pompousness” entered English in the 15th century.

We adapted “pomposity” from the post-classical Latin pompositas (meaning pomp or bombast).

We got “pompousness” by tacking the suffix “-ness” onto “pompous,” which comes from the post-classical Latin pomposus (magnificent, grand, pompous).

Both “pomposity” and “pompousness” ultimately come from pompa, the classical Latin word for a ceremonial or solemn procession (and, yes, the source of “pomp”).

As far as geography goes, we suspect that you’ll find both “pomposity” and “pompousness” wherever stuffed shirts hang out. From our experience, that means everywhere.

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