This question is near and dear to our hearts. For those who don’t know what’s being referred to, we generally write “Select to embiggen” after we source images in our posts. Makes sense. Click the thing to enlarge it.
But this question is about etymology. And for that we go to a 1996 Simpson’s episode called “Lisa the Iconoclast”:
The episode features two neologisms: embiggen and cromulent. The show runners asked the writers if they could come up with two words which sounded like real words, and these were what they came up with. The Springfield town motto is “A noble spirit embiggens the smallest man.” Schoolteacher Edna Krabappel comments that she never heard the word embiggens until she moved to Springfield. Miss Hoover, another teacher, replies, “I don’t know why; it’s a perfectly cromulent word.” Later in the episode, while talking about Homer’s audition for the role of town crier, Principal Skinner states, “He’s embiggened that role with his cromulent performance.”
Embiggen—in the context it is used in the episode—is a verb that was coined by Dan Greaney in 1996. The verb previously occurred in an 1884 edition of the British journal Notes and Queries: A Medium of Intercommunication for Literary Men, General Readers, Etc. by C. A. Ward, in the sentence “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 literal meaning of embiggen is to make something larger. The word has made its way to common use and was included in Mark Peters’ Yada, Yada, Do’h!, 111 Television Words That Made the Leap From the Screen to Society. In particular, embiggen can be found in string theory. The first occurrence of the word was in the journal High Energy Physics in the article “Gauge/gravity duality and meta-stable dynamical supersymmetry breaking”, which was published on January 23, 2007. For example, the article says: “For large P, the three-form fluxes are dilute, and the gradient of the Myers potential encouraging an anti-D3 to embiggen is very mild.” Later this usage was noted in the journal Nature, which explained that in this context, it means to grow or expand.
So, there’s that.
There’s also our happiness that The Guardian uses embiggen for the same purpose we do. For example, under this graphic used in an article on the Leveson Inquiry that’s been going on in the UK.
So whose word is “embiggen”? Answer’s simple: It’s all of ours. — Michael
Have a question? Ask away.