The constant evolution of words in the English language is interesting. In 1991, “spam” was mostly understood to mean “processed mystery meat.” In 1997 it was the term for unsolicited E-mails with garbled pitches for shifty products. By 2012, the definition had expanded to become a verb, describing any repetitive act done in quick succession (“don’t spam that attack,” “just spam the A button”, etc).
Today Merriam-Webster announced they’re officially considering the informal term “embiggen” a word. Though the first recorded use of “embiggen” dates back to a book published in 1884, it was introduced to most of the world through a Season 7 episode of The Simpsons, “Lisa The Iconoclast.” In the episode’s opening scenes Lisa is watching an educational film about Jebediah Springfield, the founder of their town, who is noted for speaking the words “A noble spirit embiggens the smallest man!”
The joke here is that this was a strange way to put it, even though Ms Krabappel points out that “embiggen is a perfectly cromulent word.” But since the first airing of this episode back in 1996, it’s been increasingly legitimized by people using “embiggen” in regular speech. In recent years many websites have taken to use the phrase “Click to embiggen” on any picture that can be enlarged (or embiggened, as the kids say now).
Further helping “embiggen” permeate popular culture was writer G. Willow Wilson, who was tasked with reinventing the comic book character Ms. Marvel and came up with Kamala Khan, en enthusiastic young heroine who possesses the power to enlarge parts of her body. When doing so, Kamala often shouts “EMBIGGEN!” which has now become her catchphrase.
But as Wilson confessed on Twitter today, he never saw The Simpsons before writing his first issue of Ms. Marvel. “Here is a true story: growing up, my parents didn’t let us watch much TV, 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.”