MS. MARVEL's Catchphrase Added to MERRIAM-WEBSTER Dictionary (And How WARREN ELLIS and THE SIMPSONS Are Involved)

Ms. Marvel #13
Credit: Marvel Comics

This week, Merriam-Webster added the word "embiggen" to its dictionary, one of the standard-setting documents of the english language. Defined as "to make bigger or more expansive," many comic book readers likely recognize the term as Kamala Khan/Ms. Marvel's battlecry, used primarily when she uses her shape-changing powers to grow her fists.

Kamala's usage of the term is so ubiquitous, Merriam-Webster tweeted news of the new dictionary entry with a gif of Ms. Marvel from Disney XD's Avengers Assemble. Check it out:

But "embiggen" didn't start with Kamala Khan. It first gained traction in the comic book community when Warren Ellis took a shine to the then-slang term around 2008, but its true origins go back even further to the 1996 episode of The Simpsons, "Lisa the Iconoclast," in which the most intellectual of the Simpsons challenges myths about Springfield's town-founder Jebediah Springfield.

The term, coined by Springfield, is part of the eponymous town's motto: "A noble spirit embiggens the smallest man."

"Embiggen" gained popularity first as a reference to the long-running show, but was legitimized when it was used in a few scientific reports written by fans of the show. A different version of "embiggens" was traced back to a writing from 1884, but the archaic term seems to have a different definition. A similar usage of "embiggen" was used by comedian Dan Greaney in the same year "Lisa the Iconoclast" aired.

A second neologism - "cromulent," meaning legitimate or acceptable - also appears in the episode. "Cromulent" hasn't become, well, cromulent yet, though did include it in a dictionary of neologisms and slang terms.

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