embiggen, cromulent

Daryl, Margot, Jess, and I were seated at Café Kopi Luwak enjoying our cups of espresso, compresso, represso, and corretto with some crumbly cakes. Daryl was showing us some pictures on his iPad. “Let me embiggen that detail,” he said, dragging his fingers in opposite directions across the surface.

Embiggen?” Margot said, her voice fairly dripping.

“It’s a perfectly cromulent word,” Jess said.

Margot was clearly about to say “Cromulent?” but decided to fight one villain at a time. “Em, big, en. The word is enlarge. Or magnify. Expand.”

“Well, you obviously understood it,” Daryl said. “Besides, those words all have different nuances of meaning. And they’re all less fun.”

“They’re better formed,” Margot said. “Embiggen has a Latin prefix stuck onto an Anglo-Saxon root and suffix.”

“Like enlighten,” I pointed out.

“But you can’t just make a word up on the spot like that,” Margot protested.

“I didn’t,” Daryl said. “Look.” He held up the iPad. “That was the detail. It’s a sign with the town motto of Springfield, from The Simpsons: ‘A noble spirit embiggens the smallest man.’”

Margot was momentarily nonplussed.

“The word was coined in 1996 by writer Dan Greaney,” Daryl added.

“It’s perfidiously ugly,” Margot said finally. “And unnecessary.”

“So?” Jess, Daryl, and I all said at the same time. And we added, again in unison, “It’s a perfectly cromulent word.”

Cromulent!” Margot said, turning to her next foe. “Is there really such a word?”

“Yes,” Jess said.

“Since 1996,” I added.

“It was invented by David X. Cohen, for The Simpsons,” Daryl explained.

“That doesn’t make it a real word!” Margot exclaimed.

Daryl was doing a quick Google search. “Well… over a quarter of a million usages might do it.”

“But what does it mean?”

“I’d say its most common use is as a linguistic equivalent of truthy,” Jess said. “Used for a neologism that has good feel and seems like it ought to be a real word.”

“It does have a broader, plainer sense,” Daryl said. “For instance, as Principal Skinner said, ‘He’s embiggened that role with his cromulent performance.’ So ‘valid’ or ‘credible’ or something like that.”

“To me,” I said, “it has an air of something you can sink your teeth into. Like this coffee cake. Only transferred metaphorically.”

“You mean with the taste of crumble and granular and the grabbiness of grommet and glom?” Jess asked.

“Yeah,” I said. “And succulent and corpulent and crapulent and esculent and opulent and poculent and…”

“And fraudulent and purulent and feculent and morbulent,” Margot grumbled.

“And truculent,” Jess added.

“And soylent green!” Daryl said.

“Well,” Margot said snarkily, “just because u lent a word to the language doesn’t mean we must cram it in.”

“Oh, there’s infinite room to embiggen the vocabulary,” Jess said.

Margot looked around as though contemplating defenestration. She slugged back the last of her coffee and declared, “I need a corretto.”

I signalled the waitress. She came over. “What can I get you?”

“A round of corretti would be cromulent,” I said.

She smiled. “Shall I embiggen them?”

Margot looked at her, slack-jawed. Pause. “Yeeeesss. Please.”

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5 responses to “embiggen, cromulent

  1. By chance I had already had a discussion with someone else about the word ‘embiggen’, and had found that it is older than The Simpsons. One earlier use is given in Wiktionary:

    1884, C.A. Ward, “New Verbs”, in Notes and Queries: A Medium of Intercommunication for Literary Men, General Readers, Etc, volume 10, page 135:
    Are there not, however, barbarous verbs in all languages? ἀλλ’ ἐμεγάλυνεν αυτοὺς ὁ λαός, but the people magnified them, to make great or embiggen, if we may invent an English parallel as ugly. After all, use is nearly everything.

    The same source tells us that ‘cromulent’ is a genuine neologism by Cohen.

    • I saw that mention in Wikipedia, but decided not to bring it in because (a) there’s no evidence that Greaney was aware of it – many words made of available parts are invented more than once, anyway, and most current use of embiggen carries a Simpsons reference – and (b) I wasn’t 100% confident that the Wikipedia reference was real, and I didn’t see it as worth taking the time to try to confirm it. But thanks for tossing it in here!

  2. Pingback: oleaginous | Sesquiotica

  3. Twas brillig and the slithy toves did gyre and gimble in the wabe
    All mimsy were the borogoves and mome raths outgabe . . .

    Ask the Egg.

  4. Pingback: This Week’s Language Blog Roundup | Wordnik ~ all the words

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