2

The article of New Yorker (November 21) begins with the following sentence under the title “Obama Goes Big on Immigration”:

For a two-term President whom his critics used to call “the speechifier,” Barack Obama has given surprisingly few memorable speeches, and none for quite a while. Sometimes his speechwriters over-egg it, and his language seems a bit stilted. -- Thursday night’s much-anticipated address on immigration -- was an extended statement rather than a full-blown speech, and it was much better for it. It was direct and to the point and it was relatively short—about fifteen minutes. http://www.newyorker.com/news/john-cassidy/obama-goes-big-on-immigration?

What does “go big” mean? Did the President make a spectacular speech? What is the single alternative word for it?

Oxford Dictionaries carries ‘Go (come) over big” as an idiom, but not “go big,” nor Cambridge Dictionaries Online shows “go big.”

Google Ngram shows that the usage of “go big” peaked in mid 1930s (0.0000020019 in 1935) and has been dwindling down to 0.0000010228% in 2000.

3

"Go big" is a colloquialism in American English. It means to do something on a grand scale, or to do something with great ambition.

The phrase developed (as in came about) as part of an advertising design for Porker Pipes, according to Rose Foster, who says she was part of the design team. So, when one "goes big," they do something in an elaborate, flashy, or otherwise ambitious manner.

1

I found this in Transactions of the Wisconsin State Agricultural Society (1884)...

Mr. Allen's hobby I rather guess is chinch-bugs and clover, and Brother Broughton, I don't know but he is big on lice.

That's at least a century before any possible "origin" relating to product slogans for motorcycle exhaust systems. And the similarity/difference between using forms of to be and to go in such contexts probably goes back even further (is big implies a continuous state with no particular implications as to whether it had/has any defined start or end, goes big implies starts to be big).

I doubt it's directly connected etymologically speaking, but to be (or go) big [on something] is probably best understood as a paraphrasing of...

to make a big deal [of it]
If someone makes a big deal out of something, they make a fuss about it or treat it as if it were very important.

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