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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?

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  • I cannot find the word in four dictionaries I can consult.
    – apaderno
    Dec 15, 2011 at 16:20
  • 9
    See this part of Wikipedia's Simpson's article Dec 15, 2011 at 16:22
  • 3
    See also: english.stackexchange.com/questions/49251/…
    – Hugo
    Dec 15, 2011 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, 2011 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, 2013 at 23:44

5 Answers 5

2

This now appears in the following dictionaries.

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/embiggen

https://www.collinsdictionary.com/submission/535/embiggen

Here is an article explaining why.

http://www.theweek.co.uk/92117/the-simpsons-embiggens-english-with-official-new-word

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  • 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, 2018 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, 2018 at 23:58
19

"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."

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  • 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, 2011 at 16:25
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    This answer tickles my kwyjibo. ;-) Dec 15, 2011 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, 2014 at 15:26
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    Unlike all the other words in English that were carefully selected using logic and reason when they invented it.
    – treeface
    Nov 30, 2014 at 2:36
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    There is no such thing as a "not real word" Jan 25, 2017 at 11:53
8

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.

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  • 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, 2013 at 21:38
  • 1
    @RLH: I've added a quote from Wiktionary.
    – Hugo
    Feb 7, 2013 at 6:02
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    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, 2014 at 15:52
1

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'

0

"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.

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  • 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. Feb 2, 2012 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. Feb 2, 2012 at 16:06

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