Another perfectly cromulent word

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Miranda Leitsinger, "11 killer whales free after being 'locked' in ice, mayor says", NBC News 1/10/2013:

Twenty of the Inukjuak villagers were tasked with doing much the same: they were going to remove the broken ice around the area and use chainsaws to enlargen the hole, which was getting increasingly smaller.

Adam Czarnota, who sent in the link, noted that "'Enlargen' put me in such a good mood that I got a chuckle out of 'increasingly smaller', too".

In fact, the Middle English Dictionary tells us, enlargen was a common form in the 14th and 15th centuries:

?a1425(c1400) Mandev.(1) (Tit C.16)   28/20:  Egypt is a long contree but it is streyt..þei may not enlargen it toward the desert for defaute of water.

ME usage apparently also included the collocations enlargen the herte, "to make kinder or more generous", and enlargen with abundance, "provide abundantly".

The 347 comments on that NBC News article are, I note with interest, dominated by angry screeds about the NRA, Al Gore, global warming, and media bias.


  1. Stan said,

    January 11, 2013 @ 6:02 am

    Quite a few such en- verbs have fallen into disuse (or at least are labelled 'rare' in the OED): ennew, enmuffle, enkennel, endungeon, engore.

    [(myl) But enlarge is still around, so in this case the endangered group is the genus of -en words, which has retreated in some cases (e.g. enlargen) and is no longer as productive as it once apparently was (e.g. redden and whiten but not greenen or bluen or yellowen…).]

  2. Saskia said,

    January 11, 2013 @ 6:27 am

    Sad that… I'm going to use enlargen as well as embiggen now.

  3. Stan said,

    January 11, 2013 @ 6:51 am

    "in this case the endangered group is the genus of -en words…"

    Mark: That's true. I think I just wanted an excuse to type enmuffle.

  4. Stephen C. Carlson said,

    January 11, 2013 @ 7:24 am

    But isn't the -en at the end of the ME 'enlargen' an infinitive ending? Hence, ME 'enlargen' corresponds to ModE 'enlarge' not 'enlargen'?

  5. Joseph F Foster said,

    January 11, 2013 @ 7:35 am

    Im glad the Eskimo had become emboldened enough to try to enlarge the hole.

  6. Martin said,

    January 11, 2013 @ 7:36 am

    Stephen is right: this is just an infinitive. You'll notice that other head entries for verbs in the ME dictionary have the same infinitive form.

  7. jon said,

    January 11, 2013 @ 7:46 am

    So what's the difference between enlargening and embiggening?

  8. GeorgeW said,

    January 11, 2013 @ 7:51 am

    engulf, embed, ensnare, entangle, enable, enact, enamour, encase, enchant, endear, enrapture, . . . . . . . . .

  9. Plegmund said,

    January 11, 2013 @ 7:54 am

    "þei may not enlargen it toward the desert"

    How are you parsing that to get an infinitive?

  10. Rodger C said,

    January 11, 2013 @ 8:00 am

    @Plegmund: Your question puzzles me. What else could it be there?

  11. Lazar said,

    January 11, 2013 @ 8:02 am

    @Piegmund: The form that follows modal verbs like "may" is an infinitive.

  12. Joe said,

    January 11, 2013 @ 8:04 am

    @Stephen and Martin

    But I think it is hard to construe -en an infinitival ending in the example from Mandeville.

  13. Joe said,

    January 11, 2013 @ 8:09 am

    Oops. Others got here before I refreshed. Never mind, I don't know enough about Middle English to know whether -en is an infinitival or not in Mandeville.

  14. J.W. Brewer said,

    January 11, 2013 @ 8:36 am

    Part of the comedy value is that by flanking a root morpheme with both prefix en- and suffix -en you produce what you might call a morphological palindrome. It seems in principle like there ought to be other (non-comical-seeming, because lexicalized) examples of that, but nothing springs immediately to mind. And on a modern analysis (i.e. not reading the -en as an obsolete infinitive marker) the comedy value is enhanced by the semantic redundancy, as both en-ADJ and ADJ-en can mean "make [more] ADJ."

    [(myl) "Enlighten", "embolden", "embrighten", "enliven", … and "embiggen".]

  15. David Denison said,

    January 11, 2013 @ 8:42 am

    Yes, the -en ending is inflectional, not derivational: it is one possible infinitive form. In other dialects and texts the infinitive might be -e or zero, both of which occur in other citations in the same section of MED. The infinitive is the form you get after modal may, as has been said. Unfortunately the same verb doesn't occur elsewhere in Mandeville Travels, or we might have been able to see other parts of the verb without -en, as in this citation:
    a1400 12 PTrib.(1) (Roy 17.B.17) 56: Þo more þo hert is enlargid in suffryng
    In Middle English, -en can also be a plural verbal ending in the present indicative (some dialects), the past indicative, and present or past subjunctive (all dialects), so you need to be sure that it isn't an inflection. With this verb I haven't spotted any evidence of -en being a verb-forming derivational suffix in Middle English; I think that must be a recent innovation.

  16. mollymooly said,

    January 11, 2013 @ 8:46 am

    Here is a comprehensive list of English verbs of form enXen and beXen.

  17. Ellen K. said,

    January 11, 2013 @ 9:58 am

    "Yes, the -en ending is inflectional, not derivational"

    Is or was? I can't see how it's inflectional in present day English.

  18. Steve Kass said,

    January 11, 2013 @ 10:17 am

    My contest entry is emmadden. Link: [Word of the Day: Emmadden.]

  19. Lazar said,

    January 11, 2013 @ 10:42 am

    @Steve Kass: Shouldn't that be enmadden though? Enmesh seems to indicate that the prefix doesn't assimilate before m. That's the only direct precedent, but the prefix similarly fails to assimilate before l (e.g. enlarge, enlighten) where Latin in- became il-.

  20. Elijah said,

    January 11, 2013 @ 10:43 am

    I had to read the passage a couple of times for my monkey brain to realize what was remarkable about it, and even then I don't really get what's funny; it all sounds like English™ to me.
    Mind you, on a cooking show once the host said to "crispen the bacon", and then fingernails met chalkboard a bit.

  21. Ellen K. said,

    January 11, 2013 @ 10:44 am

    After I posted my previous comment "gotten" came to mind, but it's a past participle, and an infinitive form. Though perhaps it's the same ending, but attached to the simple past tense ("got")?

  22. Ellen K. said,

    January 11, 2013 @ 10:45 am

    Oops, make that "and" a "not"… not an infinitive form. Forgot to proofread.

  23. Jake T said,

    January 11, 2013 @ 10:51 am

    I think the proper antonym is smallerize.

  24. Q. Pheevr said,

    January 11, 2013 @ 10:53 am

    @Lazar: What about embolden?

  25. David Denison said,

    January 11, 2013 @ 10:55 am

    Hi, it was me who said the -en was inflectional. I meant in Middle English – of course not in PDE enlargen, where it's clearly derivational. Sorry, always get caught out by speed of other commenters!

  26. David L said,

    January 11, 2013 @ 10:58 am

    Maybe this is just me, but why is it that words like embiggen, enlargen, enwiden sound jokey but perfectly understandable, whereas ensmallen (emsmallen?), enlittlen, and ennarrowen don't sound so reasonable? Does en- connote some sort of directionality or polarity?

  27. Rodger C said,

    January 11, 2013 @ 11:03 am

    @Elijah: Well, since "crisp" is a Latin derivative, that should of course be "crispify." ;)

  28. Steve Kass said,

    January 11, 2013 @ 11:10 am

    @Lazar: Good observation, but I'll leave it at emmadden. Not only does the use of em- add to the word's "intentionally vague technoetymology," but it also has are two OED entries on its side: emmarvel (Forms: also enmarvel, emmarvaile, enmarvaile) and emmarble (Forms: also enmarble).

    Were I to speculate, I'd wonder if emmesh lost ground to enmesh because it would be too easy to misaccent emmesh as EMM-esh. The additional syllable in each of emmadden, emmarvel, and emmarble prevents any misaccent.

    [Note: The OED also contains the delightful word empeople (Forms: also enpeople and inpeople).]

  29. Steve Kass said,

    January 11, 2013 @ 11:14 am

    Apparently, Jake T ("smalllerize") is not kidding.

  30. NW said,

    January 11, 2013 @ 11:45 am

    'Enlargen' might be just a calque on one of the Inukjuak words for "embiggen".

    The c. 1384 Wycliffe Bible has an infinitive of 'enlighten'; unfortunately it's 'ynli{gh}te' without -n, otherwise we would have a word 'enlightenen'. The -en derivational suffix seems to have come in too late to pick up infinitive -en.

  31. NW said,

    January 11, 2013 @ 11:46 am

    No it isn't, it's 'ynli{gh}tne', without which my comment would be pointless.

  32. Q. Pheevr said,

    January 11, 2013 @ 11:52 am

    @David L: I think the difference is actually phonological, rather than semantic. The suffix -en that attaches to adjectives (or sometimes nouns) to derive verbs seems to be restricted to monosyllabic stems ending in obstruents (as in redden, whiten, blacken, to pick up on Mark Liberman's colour examples in his response to the first comment). Adjectives that end in sonorants (including vowels) don't take -en (thus *greenen, *bluen, *brownen, *tealen), nor do polysyllabic adjectives (*orangen, *violeten). Small, narrow, and little all end in sonorants, and narrow and little are disyllabic.

    With dimensions, we can see an interesting effect of this restriction: we have widen and broaden, with -en attaching directly to the adjective as expected, but instead of *highen and *longen we have heighten and lengthen. Apparently it's better to attach -en to a noun than to attach it to something that ends in a sonorant.

    A couple of disclaimers: (1) -en isn't terribly productive even with stems that match its selectional requirements (?pinken, ??peachen, ??mauven), so there are a lot more gaps than the phonological restrictions can explain. (2) These restrictions don't apply to other suffixes of the form -en (such as the one that derives adjectives from nouns, as in woollen, leathern).

  33. Lazar said,

    January 11, 2013 @ 11:54 am

    @Q. Pheevr: It assimilates before b and p, but not before m, r or l. Which makes sense, because embolden and empower allow the prefix to maintain a distinct nasal consonant, whereas *emmesh, *errage or *ellarge would eliminate it (as English doesn't have geminates).

  34. Erica said,

    January 11, 2013 @ 12:27 pm

    No wryly raised eyebrows at the oxymoron "increasing smaller"?

    Could the hole have been getting decreasingly smaller?

  35. Xmun said,

    January 11, 2013 @ 1:02 pm

    "English doesn't have geminates": my father, who spoke fluent Italian as well as English and his native Maltese, learned this rule too thoroughly and applied it too broadly, pronouncing "pen-knife" for example, as /penaif/ (that e is meant to be open). But he would say the geminate in (say) "La Sonnambula" clearly.

  36. J.W. Brewer said,

    January 11, 2013 @ 1:21 pm

    "Enlighten" has taken on over time a different scope of meaning than "lighten" for which the latter (often?) simply cannot be used, although it was not always so (the KJV's "light to lighten the Gentiles" is now markedly archaic/obsolete, I think, although of course there's a metaphor there that sort of straddles the semantic fence). Not sure if there's a similarly sharp distinction between liven and enliven, and embrighten is rare enough that I don't have a good intuition as to how it might or might not be semantically separated from brighten. But are there any examples where an enXen form coexists with an enX form, rather than a Xen form? Maybe the phonological restrictions proposed above on the productivity of the -en suffix make that less likely, maybe there's something else going on.

  37. Dan Lufkin said,

    January 11, 2013 @ 2:02 pm

    I suppose no one is going to remark that it's no surprise that the Inukjuak villagers have a hundred words for doing things to a hole in the ice.

  38. Deb said,

    January 11, 2013 @ 2:31 pm

    When I read the snippet first, "enlargen" jumped out. I'm not as well versed as most of you in deconstructing our mother tongue. My first thought was, did the reporter actually mean to utilize that word or was it a typo that leaked through, as so many do today (Pay for proofreading, please!), resulting in the use of an archaic word we can now salivate over?

    Then, in reading the comments, Steve Kass remarked that the word of the day could be "emmadden". It is most telling to me that my first thought, before checking to see what it meant as I am unfamiliar with that word, was, "Oh please. He's everywhere. Don't give him a word of his own."

    Now, after perusing the definitions of said word, I suspect his ancestors adopted it as their sir name because it rather fits.

  39. BobC said,

    January 11, 2013 @ 2:33 pm

    "Increasingly smaller" sounds like a nice Goldwynism, a la "include me out."

  40. hector said,

    January 11, 2013 @ 3:46 pm

    "Increasingly smaller" is not an oxymoron. When you're talking about a ratio of two interdependent things, one will be getting bigger while the other is getting smaller. Thus, "increasingly cloudy" is the same as "decreasingly sunny."

    In the case here, the hole is getting smaller because the ice is increasing in size. "Increasingly smaller" is just a shorthand, and perfectly understandable, way of saying this. The viewer is perceiving something getting bigger and something getting smaller at the same time. It is not a contradiction in terms.

    One could, I suppose, have said "The hole continued to get smaller as the size of the ice increased," but that would be much wordier; "increasingly smaller" identifies the situation just fine.

  41. J.W. Brewer said,

    January 11, 2013 @ 4:03 pm

    And of course there's a certain ontological sense in which it might be peculiar to talk about a hole as if it were a thing with properties. In fact, the relevant OED subdefinition for "enlarge" seems to presuppose that what is being enlarged is an object, not an absence-of-object. Clouds are things, of course, but when we talk about it getting increasingly darker outside (= decreasingly light) we are probably reifying darkness in a sort of folk-metaphysics way that treats it as something more substantive in itself than merely the relative local absence of light. But there is no particular reason (outside of specifically scientific discourse) that natural language should reflect Scientific Truth rather than a folk-metaphysics understanding of the world.

  42. ella said,

    January 11, 2013 @ 4:14 pm

    I had no idea that 'enlargen' was in any way unusual. Looks perfectly normal to me. Huh.

  43. Ellen K. said,

    January 11, 2013 @ 5:32 pm

    I thinking increasingly smaller is fine. The amount of smallness is increasing. "Decreasingly smaller" for something getting smaller doesn't work, because the amount of smallness isn't decreasing.

    [(myl) Scientific and technical literature yields a certain number of gems like "The transmission power is adjusted initially by a large increment and then ramped down at an increasingly decreasing rate."]

  44. Eugene said,

    January 11, 2013 @ 6:07 pm

    How about "progressively smaller" or "inexorably smaller" or "dangerously smaller" or just "smaller and smaller?"

  45. Keith M Ellis said,

    January 13, 2013 @ 1:52 am

    Or just "smaller"? This objection applies, of course, to similar and more common phrases such as "the fire was getting increasingly larger" versus "the fire was getting larger". I slightly want to interpret this like acceleration, that it indicates the rate of change is changing; but I don't think that in most cases that is the intended meaning. Mostly, I think it's just intended to emphasize the change, where merely "smaller", "larger", "bigger" are felt to be insufficient.

  46. Ellen K. said,

    January 13, 2013 @ 12:49 pm

    I think "increasingly" adds in two things. First, the idea that it's something happening over a period of time as a continuous change. Second "increasingly smaller" seems to me to imply that it's already small and getting smaller.

  47. Steve Kass said,

    January 13, 2013 @ 5:43 pm

    Does anyone want to propose a distinction between "increasingly smaller" and "increasingly small"? Or maybe better yet, "smaller and smaller"? Of these three options to emphasize the change in size, the first seems the most awkward to me.

  48. Dick Gregory said,

    January 14, 2013 @ 9:09 am

    From when I moved to Hackney in East London in 1993, people there have been "giving it the large" and "largin' it."[]

  49. BZ said,

    January 14, 2013 @ 1:32 pm

    It seems to me (as a computer person with some math background) that "increasingly smaller" would imply that the rate of ensmallment was accelerating. Of course, such does not apply to things like increasing cloudiness, but maybe you have to say "increasingly cloudier" to mean that. (neither increasingly smaller nor cloudier sound right to me even if I apply mathematical analysis to it).

  50. J.W. Brewer said,

    January 14, 2013 @ 2:57 pm

    I think the problem in part is that speed = first derivative and acceleration/deceleration = second derivative, but the "increasingly decreasing" phrasing is about the third derivative: the rate of change of the rate of change of the rate of change. I don't think we have a usual straightforward natural-language way of talking about that (although I expect that accelerate/decelerate were words only specialists understood before automobiles became ubiquitous).

  51. Stan said,

    January 15, 2013 @ 3:46 am

    Here's an uncommon one, enconjure, put to good use by Cormac McCarthy in All the Pretty Houses:

    He polished the underside of the messtray with the sleeve of his shift and standing in the center of the room under the lightbulb he studied the face that peered dimly out of the warped steel like some maimed and raging djinn enconjured there.

  52. Marion Crane said,

    January 16, 2013 @ 6:14 am

    And then there's enpharaonate, as well, apparently. Though I would use it differently, perhaps…

  53. stringph said,

    February 1, 2013 @ 3:27 pm

    Lewis Carroll has us covered: 'getting smaller and smaller' does just fine, implying not only shrinkage but shrinkage upon shrinkage.

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