“OH MY GAWWWDDDDD,” tweeted comics writer G. Willow Wilson today, at the announcement that Merriam-Webster had added “embiggen” to its dictionary of the English language, “I’m so floored even my tweets are coming out in a New Jersey accent.”
The publisher announced the addition of 850 words and phrases to its dictionary today, among them tzatziki, the Greek yogurt sauce; dumpster fire, meaning “disaster”; and mansplain. And before you sound off in the comments, remember that it’s a dictionary’s job to serve as a record and resource for how English words are currently used — not to prescribe how they should be used.
So no complaining about how Merriam-Webster is contributing to the collapse of society. If anything, it’s just describing the collapse of society.
But you may be wondering what “embiggen” has to do with comic books. Especially if you associate it with the town motto of The Simpsons’ Springfield — “a noble spirit embiggens the smallest man,” a line attributed to purported town founder Jebediah Springfield — as seen in the 1996 episode “Lisa the Iconoclast.” The writers of The Simpsons coined the words “embiggen” and “cromulent” for that episode, deliberately intending them to sound like words but to have no clear definitions.
But in a tweet announcing the addition, Merriam-Webster gave a nod to another work of pop culture that has helped put “embiggen” on the map, by adding in a GIF of G. Willow Wilson’s Ms. Marvel.
Her book’s lead, Kamala Khan, is a newly awakened Inhuman superhero, with the power to stretch and “embiggen” her limbs. You may have seen some Ms. Marvel covers in passing and thought it was a trick of perspective, but no — she really can make her fists the size of engine blocks, and pack a punch to match. “Embiggen!” is one of the teenage superhero’s favorite battle cries.
And that’s the use now described by Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary: “Embiggen” is an informal or humorous transitive verb that means “to make bigger or more expansive.”
“Here is a true story: growing up, my parents didn’t let us watch much TV,” Wilson shared on Twitter, “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.”
Congratulations to The Simpsons and Ms. Marvel — on their perfectly cromulent contributions to the English language.