The dictionary just got a little more interesting.
Twenty-two years ago, an episode of “The Simpsons” introduced the world to a perfectly cromulent word.
During the beginning of the episode “Lisa the Iconoclast,” Lisa Simpson’s school class is shown a biopic about Jebediah Springfield, the founder of their town, in which he states his catchphrase, “A noble spirit embiggens the smallest man.”
“Embiggen” was not actually a real word at the time, but that hasn’t stopped people from using it regularly over the intervening years.
Finally, in what feels like a long overdue act, the Merriam-Webster dictionary has added “embiggen” to its list of regularly used words, as part of 850 new terms that reflect modern language.
According to Merriam-Webster, the word means “to make bigger or more expansive,” which isn’t exactly news to anyone who’s ever heard the word, as its meaning is fairly obvious.
It’s hard to understand why Merriam-Webster hadn’t added this word already — “embiggen” has been in regular use in American English for decades now.
Another noteworthy use of the word comes from the most recent incarnation of comic book superhero Ms. Marvel, who uses the word to describe her shapeshifting abilities.
It’s worth noting that, across the pond, the Oxford English Dictionary, itself a record of the British English dialect, has featured the word “embiggen” for many years already.
Unlike Merriam-Webster, the Oxford dictionary also features the word “cromulent,” another creation of this episode of “The Simpsons,” which the dictionary defines as meaning “acceptable or adequate.”
Perhaps this is an indication that British English is more malleable and accepting of change than American English. Maybe it just means that someone who works at the Oxford English Dictionary is a fan of classic-era “Simpsons” episodes.
Either way, Merriam-Webster is finally catching up with the times, but its late inclusion of this cromulent word only serves to indicate just how behind the times the dictionary has become with regard to pop culture-infused changes to the English language.
Now, if we can just get Merriam-Webster to accept “wipqozn” as a word, the American English language will finally start making progress toward gaining a full collection of made-up words from ’90s cartoons!