Sunday, 16 June 2013


Biggen, Embiggen, Cromulent, Neologism, Perfectly Cromulent Word, The Simpsons, Lisa the Iconoclast
"A noble spirit embiggens the smallest man."
Jebediah Springfield


Verb transitive & intransitive. Obsolete exluding dialectical. Mid-17th century.
[from BIG + -EN.]

Make or become big; increase.

It's funny when you hear a word, snort with derision because it doesn't sound like a real word, and then find out that it is a real word and you are, in fact, a bit of a numpty. It goes the other way too: I was at a party once and I asked a girl from the Caribbean if she had acclimatised to the English weather. "Have I what?" she snorted (it was definitely a snort). "Have I acclimatised? That's not a real word." Bizarrely, another girl standing within earshot interjected. "It is," she said with an exasperated roll of the eyes. "Yeah. Ed's weird like that." At that point I decided to go and find some other people to talk to, ones that didn't think the use of real worlds was weird (my apologies - it would seem I've been waiting many years to get this one of my chest).

So what's this all got to do with biggen? Well, like acclimatise (apparently), biggen just doesn't sound like a real word. Use it at your own risk, as it's bound to prompt derisory sneers and glances. It's similar to the quote from The Simpsons: "A noble spirit embiggens the smallest man." Jebediah Springfield apparently spoke these words and they were adopted as Springfield's town motto. Although a neologism written specifically for that episode (Lisa the Iconoclast), embiggen has since slipped into somewhat common (if jocular) usage, although it isn't yet recognised by the OED. Therefore, it might even be the case that, on your use of the word biggen, you might be corrected with: "Umm ... actually I believe you mean embiggen."

Interestingly, there is a phenomenon in which one tries to invent a neologism, or accidentally trips over a word and muddles it up (as in a spoonerism), but the end product does actually turn out to be a real word (often an archaic, obsolete or highly specialised word). This is termed 'a perfectly cromulent word', a phrase from the same episode of The Simpsons in which a character expresses doubt about embiggen, only for someone to assert that 'embiggen is a perfectly cromulent word'.

However, if you're just a semi-literate idiot that doesn't know basic English words, it does not qualify as a 'perfectly cromulent word' scenario. I mean c'mon! Acclimatise? Acclimatise? It's such a rudimentary (and cromulent) word! Bah!


  1. As someone who rarely watches the telly, let alone The Simpsons, cromulent had me googling!
    I have to admit I am disappointed in what I found. I like the word, and it should have a much more grandiose meaning, gosh dang it all! :)

    I must admit to constantly making up my own words, the majority of which should never have been thought of, let alone uttered.
    But I kind of like my latest one.....smallicate.
    I dally with graphics a bit, and sometimes the files are too big, and are in major need of smallication!
    It's not often I need to biggen anything! :)

  2. Yes, I'm an inveterate word-maker-upperer too (hence why I'm always making up word when I write about combining forms). And yes, smallicate is definitely most pleasing. Although, did you know that the word 'belittle' has that literal meaning too? I didn't until I wrote about it, and I thought it was rather sweet. So now, when chopping carrots, you will have a choice of choice synonyms: you can belittle, smallicate or debigulate them : o )

    ('debigulate', you'll be pleased to know, is another Simpsons word)

  3. On the note of acclimatise, we Canadians spell it with a z instead of an s typically - I had never thought about its spelling before, though I often do as a Canadian. We are caught in between the awful conundrum of, "Do we use the "American" spelling or the "British" spelling?" I find my students gravitate to the American, whereas more education individuals' tendency is British.
    However, I am equally appalled that someone would accuse the poor word of not being a real word!

    1. *educated
      Gah. The teacher makes a typo. My curse.

    2. I do rather like the lexical differences that exist across anglophone countries. However, the use of a 'z' in place of an 's' doesn't sit well with me at all. It's looks childish and, as you said, somehow less educated. There's no reason to it, of course, as it's most definitely a zeddy pronunciation in 'acclimatiZe'. But no. No frivolous zeds please. Oh, and yes - it's zed, not zee.

      Aargh! I've become a linguistic bigot!