1 : of, relating to, or constituting a portent
2 : eliciting amazement or wonder : prodigious
3 a : being a grave or serious matter
b : self-consciously solemn or important : pompous
c : ponderously excessive
Did You Know?
At the heart of portentous is portent, a word for an omen or sign, which comes to us from the Latin noun portentum of the same meaning. And indeed, the first uses of portentous did refer to omens. The second sense of portentous, describing that which is extremely impressive, developed in the 16th century. A third definition—"grave, solemn, significant"—was then added to the second edition of Webster's New International Dictionary in 1934. The word's connotations, however, have since moved into less estimable territory. It now frequently describes both the pompous and the excessive.
Our host had a habit of making portentous proclamations about the state of modern art, which was a bit of a turnoff for us as two art majors.
"[Glen Campbell] briefly joined the instrumental rock group the Champs, who'd had some success, in 1958, with 'Tequila,' still one of the best encapsulations of the portentous elation brought on by ice-cold margaritas." — Amanda Petrusich, The New Yorker, 9 Aug. 2017
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