- Merriam-Webster added the word “embiggen” to its dictionary.
- The word first appeared as a joke in a 1996 episode of “The Simpsons,” but has since been used in other contexts.
- Other words added to the dictionary include “blockchain,” “glamping,” and “mansplain.”
Merriam-Webster added the word “embiggen” to its pages on Monday, the dictionary giant announced, culminating a 22-year journey to mainstream acceptance for the word that originated on a “Simpsons” episode.
The dictionary defines embiggen as “to make bigger or more expansive,” and notes that its usage is “informal” and “humorous.”
The nonsense word was coined for the 1996 “Simpsons” episode “Lisa the Iconoclast.” In one scene, students from Springfield Elementary School learn that their town’s motto is “A noble spirit embiggens the smallest man.”
Teacher Edna Krabappel then remarks, “Embiggens? I never heard that word before I moved to Springfield,” to which fellow teacher Elizabeth Hoover replies with a nonsense word of her own: “I don’t know why. It’s a perfectly cromulent word,” she says.
Supposedly, both embiggen and “cromulent” – which didn’t make the cut on Monday – were the result of a dare. According to Simpsons lore, the showrunners challenged the episode’s writers to insert two real-sounding fake words into the script.
Both coinages instantly became running inside jokes among fans of the show. But it was “embiggen” that became the “stealth lexical champion” of the scene, according to Merriam-Webster lexicographer Kory Stamper.
“Because it doesn’t look transparently fake, it’s been used in print unwinkingly,” Stamper said in an AV Club video last year. Thanks to its similar structure to other English verbs like “embolden” and “enlighten,” the word has graced the pages of scientific journals, news articles, and the comic series “Ms. Marvel.”
Technically, that “Simpsons” episode wasn’t the first time “embiggen” appeared in media – the show was beat by more than 100 years by a writer to the British journal “Notes and Queries,” who in 1884 sarcastically coined the word as an example of an ugly-sounding verb. The “Simpsons” episode remains the first earnest attempt at a coinage, and Merriam-Webster cites 1996 as the first known use of the word.
The word headlined a class of 850 new Merriam-Webster additions, including “wordie” (a lover of words), “mansplain” (to explain something to a woman in a condescending way that assumes she has no knowledge about the topic), and “glamping” (outdoor camping with amenities and comforts not usually used when camping).
Three related technological words also made the cut: “cryptocurrency,” “blockchain,” and “initial coin offering.”
“In order for a word to be added to the dictionary it must have widespread, sustained, and meaningful use,” Merriam-Webster associate editor Emily Brewster said in a statement. “These new words have been added to the dictionary because they have become established members of the English language, and are terms people are likely to encounter.”
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