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Pronounced /ˈbɔːbəˈɪɡməs/Help with pronunciation

This is rare in everyday language, but you will find it in the medical literature, where it turns up mostly in the plural, borborygmi, referring to a rumbling in the guts.

It’s not an unusual medical condition, it being caused by the normal movement of gas and fluid in the intestines. However, excessive noise might indicate that the sufferer has one of those ailments that can upset our delicate and finely-balanced internal economies, for example lactic acid intolerance or irritable bowel syndrome.

Outside medical matters, you are likely to encounter the adjective, borborygmic, which is used figuratively, mainly it would seem in matters related to noisy plumbing. For example, in Ada by Vladimir Nabokov you’ll find “All the toilets and waterpipes in the house had been suddenly seized with borborygmic convulsions”, and E Fenwick wrote in Long Way Down: “The room was very quiet, except for its borborygmic old radiator”.

The word is related to the sixteenth-century French borborgyme, but our term comes directly from Latin, which in turn descends from the Greek word borborugmos with the same meaning.

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.

Page created 10 Oct 1998; Last updated 12 Oct 1998