Pop culture plays a huge part in the process of transforming made up, nonsensical words into perfectly acceptable parts of the lexicon. Today, Merriam-Webster announced via Twitter that “embiggen” – a word that frequently pops up in Marvel’s Ms Marvel series whenever Kamala Khan shapeshifts her body to make it larger – is one of the 850 new words most recently added to the dictionary.
Kamala Khan using her ’embiggening’ powers to increase the size of her fist. Image: Adrian Alphona, Ian Herring (Marvel)
A noble spirit embiggens the smallest man.
— Merriam-Webster (@MerriamWebster) March 5, 2018
Here is a true story: growing up, my parents didn't let us watch much TV, so the first time I encountered the word "embiggen" was in reference to sizing JPEGs. Didn't realize it was a Simpsons thing until years later.
— G. is in the Dictionary (@GWillowWilson) March 5, 2018
The official ruling (just the most recent to connect newly-added words to our favourite pop culture) gives embiggen the long-overdue recognition it deserves for being both an incredibly useful word and one of the greatest things to come out of The Simpsons. Though embiggen has definitely enjoyed more popularity because of its frequent use in Ms Marvel, the word was first introduced (in a modern pop cultural context) in “Lisa the Iconoclast”, the 16th episode of The Simpsons‘ seventh season.
Young Jebediah Springfield, an educational video being shown at Springfield Elementary, tells the story of how Jebediah Springfield first founded the city in 1796 after leading a group of settlers away from Maryland in search of new Sodom. Springfield becomes the leader of the fledgling settlement after successfully taming a buffalo, and when a young boy asks how he can one day be great like Springfield, the man replies with an aphorism: “A noble spirit embiggens the smallest man.”
Outside of our favourite geek entertainment, embiggen actually predates “Lisa the Iconoclast” by quite a few years because it had been independently coined by TV writer Dan Greaney in 1996 and used in CA Ward’s Notes and Queries: A Medium of Intercommunication for Literary Men, General Readers, Etc. from 1884 – in both cases the word referred to the enlarging of an object.
The complete list of Merriam-Webster’s new words can be found here, but now that embiggen’s on the books in the major dictionary, it’s time to get cracking on getting “cromulent”, meaning fine or acceptable, into common parlance.