Friday, November 17, 2017

Embiggen (v.) Cromulent (a.) - The Simpsons have changed our language


To make larger.


Staggeringly adequate and suitable.

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History & Etymology

Both of these words are neologisms, words that were created recently. In the case of embiggen and cromulent they both were introduced to the public on February 18, 1996 on a episode of the Simpsons. The episode was titled “Lisa The Iconoclast” and in one scene all of the students are gathered in the gymnasium watching an educational film about the history of Springfield.

[Simpsons clip]

The show runners had asked the writers to invent words that sounded like they were real but were completely made up, and embiggen and cromulent were the results.

As it turns out they only half succeeded in their goal of creating two new words. Embiggen had already been used once in 1884 in a British publication. This really isn’t that surprising. They may not have realized it but when they were creating embiggen they were following well established rule in the english language. You probably know these rules instinctively yourself.

It's a simple matter of adding a prefix and a suffix.

The prefix em-, a variant of the en- prefix when it comes before P or a B, makes the word it's attached to into a verb. And the suffix -en which when attached to a verb denotes is happening in the present or immediacy. Using these rules your mind can, almost without thinking about it, determine the meaning of embiggen.

This is a very common way people create new words everyday.

Cromulent, on the other hand, is far less rules based. The suffix -ulent seems to be an arbitrary borrowing from words adopted from Latin, and crom is literally a nonsense word with no previous meaning.

To determine the meaning of cromulent it takes a bit more thought, by looking at the context in which is used. The first instance of it's use, “it's a perfectly cromulent word,” would indicate a meaning similar to acceptable. The second usage, “He's embiggened that role with his cromulent performance,” implies that the object described as cromulent enhanced something. Which is more than I would expect from something that was merely adequate.  That’s the reason I modified my definition from the one usually given for cromulent, and added staggeringly.


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