If my memory serves me correctly, I first encountered the word embiggen a year or so ago. I thought it seemed odd, but in context, the meaning was quite obvious.

Since that time I've seen this word with progressively greater frequency. I tried to Google the word and I can find references to it in both Wiktionary and the Urban Dictionary-- both are not professional, formal dictionaries so that would lend me to believe that the word is certainly slang.

However, in almost every context that I have observed this word in use, it has been within a professional or semi-formal environment.

Is embiggen considered a formal or slang word?

  • I cannot find the word in four dictionaries I can consult. – apaderno Dec 15 '11 at 16:20
  • 9
    See this part of Wikipedia's Simpson's article – Matt E. Эллен Dec 15 '11 at 16:22
  • 3
    See also: english.stackexchange.com/questions/49251/… – Hugo Dec 15 '11 at 17:11
  • As you guessed, words not in dictionaries are not considered "formal". An exception may be the jargon of a specialized technical field. – GEdgar Dec 15 '11 at 19:48
  • 2
    One might think that neologisms are mostly slang/informal/low register. But the great majority of new words, especially in the 20thc, are formal or technical words (medical or technological) based on Latin or Greek, obviously high register or technical jargon. 'embiggen', because of the elements in it's construction, sounds both formal and informal ('big' is informal sounding). – Mitch Feb 6 '13 at 23:44

This now appears in the following dictionaries.



Here is an article explaining why.


  • 1
    Scandal alert! I'm marking this as the new, correct answer since times have changed. Thanks @ChrisNash for keeping this updated. – RLH Mar 22 '18 at 13:53
  • Since this answer didn't talk about whether it's formal or informal, I'll mention that Merriam-Webster calls it "informal + humorous". That said, Collins mentions it is also a technical term in string theory (see also blogs.scientificamerican.com/news-blog/…) – mic Apr 13 '18 at 23:58

"Embiggen" is not a word I would use in formal communication. It was introduced as a joke on an episode of the television series "The Simpsons," and even in that fictional universe the authenticity of the word is questioned:

"'Embiggens'? I never heard that word before I moved to Springfield."

"I don't know why. It's a perfectly cromulent word."

  • 5
    The origin of this word doesn't explicitly make it a non-formal word, even under a context like this one. Such words when injected into common use long enough, can become formal words. I am curious if this is one of those cases. Side note, I can't recall which word(s) were created by the Simpson's writers but I do recall that at least a couple have become so common that they have been added to the dictionary. Still, that doesn't make such words formal, but it's not impossible. – RLH Dec 15 '11 at 16:25
  • 2
    This answer tickles my kwyjibo. ;-) – Jonathan Van Matre Dec 15 '11 at 22:15
  • Embiggen is a neologism from The Simpsons used by Ms Hoover in the episode, “Lisa the Iconoclast”. It’s not a real word, let alone legit. – user78597 Jun 7 '14 at 15:26
  • 6
    Unlike all the other words in English that were carefully selected using logic and reason when they invented it. – treeface Nov 30 '14 at 2:36
  • 1
    There is no such thing as a "not real word" – Lightness Races in Orbit Jan 25 '17 at 11:53

C.A. Ward, "New Verbs", in Notes and Queries: A Medium of Intercommunication for Literary Men, General Readers, Etc, volume 10, page 135, pub. 1884:

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.

Given that it is cited as a word as far back as 1884 (pre-dating what we would consider modern slang), whether it became commonly used enough to appear in a dictionary seems irrelevant to the question. While its main use today is modern slang, it is, or at least has been, a word used in at least some parts of the country in normal conversation.

  • 3
    Wow, I had no clue. Could you offer a quote from the text mentioned above, with possibly a link to a Google Book (or some other source) since I assume this document is out of copyright? – RLH Feb 6 '13 at 21:38
  • 1
    @RLH: I've added a quote from Wiktionary. – Hugo Feb 7 '13 at 6:02
  • 4
    In the context of that quote though, isn't he saying that "embiggen" is an ugly, barbarous verb that he just invented as an example? I still like it though. – Anssssss Oct 17 '14 at 15:52

I (UK English) see it as a joke word. If someone used it in a formal or semi-formal document I would think they were pretty stupid.

The usual word is 'enlarge'


"Formal" doesn't really mean anything when describing a word. Formality is a property of, at minimum, some actual discourse where hierarchic social roles are being interpreted. I usually just talk about some words faluting higher than others.

You could also worry about whether falute is an official word or not, if you like. Since "official" doesn't mean anything when applied to a word, either, this doesn't detract from a word's cromulence.

  • 1
    There are times when faluting matters, such as a job interview or meeting your boyfriend's or girlfriend's parents for the first time. It is wise to know what words are safe, reliable and respectful, and which might be risky in some situations. – Concrete Gannet Feb 2 '12 at 8:41
  • Certainly, and sociolinguists study this phenomenon. It's just that that's not a part of English grammar, but of English pragmatics. – John Lawler Feb 2 '12 at 16:06

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.