LINGUIST List 10.261

Thu Feb 18 1999

Sum: Embiggens & Cropulent in "The Simpsons"

Editor for this issue: Karen Milligan <>


  • Sean Witty, Embiggens and cropulent

    Message 1: Embiggens and cropulent

    Date: Thu, 18 Feb 1999 15:17:08 KST
    From: Sean Witty <>
    Subject: Embiggens and cropulent

    Greetings all!

    Reference: Linguistlist 10.97, Disc: Adjectives to Verbs; where I wrote, "On a side note, one of my favorite episodes of "The Simpsons" is the one where the town honors its founder, and we learn that his motto involves the V "embiggens" (if anyone knows the motto, please send it to me)."

    1. The town motto. The episode referred to involves the town of Springfield celebrating its bicentennial and its founder, Jebediah Obediah Zacharia Jebediah Springfield. As with the American bicentennial celebrations, the school is observing the occasion by reviewing the great achievements of the town's founder and rehashing his inspiring words, also inscribed beneath a statue of the great pioneer, "A noble spirit EMBIGGENS the smallest man."

    What is truly fascinating about this, is the fact that responses came from all over the glove. I watch "The Simpsons" on Star TV, out of Hong Kong. Other respondents, see below, hailed from Pennsylvania, my home state, Japan, Hawaii, London, Wisconsin, and York. Truly this program is global signficance for its thought provoking humor. Equally interesting, and more linguistically relevant, is that, while eight individuals answered the question, there were several variations (apparently no one could remember the expression completely):

    "A noble spirit embiggens the smallest man.": 5 respondents "A noble heart embiggens the smallest man." : 2 respondents "The spirit of Jebediah embiggens us all." : 1 respondent

    While we were unable to agree on the exact wording of the motto, as inscribed under the statue, everyone remembered the word EMBIGGENS. It would seem that the subject of the sentence, which some would argue is equal in importance to the preterit, is not as significant.

    2. Etymology of "embiggens". Having clarified the trivial above and gleened a possible avenue of research for some industrious undergrad (the relative importance of subjects and preterits), it would seem negligent to comment further without at least exploring the "correctness" of this term.

    Obviously, the verb is a construct of the "enlighten" variety. Its morphological parts are "em-big-en-s". Each of these parts is essential to derivation of the meaning:

    "-big-": as the adjective stem, provides the basic meaning of the word thus created.

    "em-" : variant of "en-"; when used in verbs formed from adjectives and nouns it means to cause to become.

    "-en-" : to cause to be.

    "-s" : third person singular.

    Thus, to answer the question posed by Mrs. Kraboppel, "Yes", EMBIGGENS is a perfectly good, although highly infrequently used, word.

    3. "cropulent". Many respondents also made reference the the usage of this word, but dismissed it as having no meaning. As it turns out, this is not necessarily true. "cropulent" is and adjective of the "flocculent" variety, with morphological parts "crop-ulent".

    "crop-" : from the verb meaning to cut off short, or trim.

    "-ulent" : meaning that abounds in a specific thing.

    Thus, "cropulent" means to abound in shortness. Turning the attention back to the statue of Jebediah, one will recall that the plague beneath his feet was quite small. Thus, EMBIGGENS, which is a cropulent way to express the real message, was chosen so that it would fit onto the plague. Ergo, Jebediah could not have possibly said the motto, which fits right into the plot of the story.

    Yes folks, the people at Fox are very creative!

    4. Acknowledgements.

    Thanks to the following for supplying the information necessary to piece this together:

    Martha McGinnis Norvin Richards Keira Ballantyne Gerry Nelson Dave Vinson Helen Lawrence Georgia Green Timothy Boelke

    As always, comments and thoughts are invited and may be directed below. Now the fun is over, get back to work!

    Sean M. Witty, PBK Linguist/Foreign Language Specialist Kwangwoon University-KILE, Adjunct Professor of English

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