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Is 'Ginormous' a Word?

"Ginormous" isn't as new as you probably think it is.

By
Samantha Enslen, read by Mignon Fogarty,

ginormous

What’s the origin of ginormous? Is it actually a real word?

Jack, one of our readers from Denver, asked us this question:

“I was in Walmart this weekend, and in the checkout they had novelty lighters that were way too big to be useful. The display called them ‘Ginormous Lighters.’ Can you help with this? So often you’ve found that newly popular words are in fact very old.”

Jack, you’re right. Ginormous is not new.

This word, which means “extremely large,” can be traced back to World War II. It first showed up in the slang of the British armed forces. 

It was put in print in 1948, in the Dictionary of Forces’ Slang. Then again in 1962, in the Dictionary of Sailors’ Slang. Examples in the books include a “ginormous brush with the enemy” and a “ginormous raid upon the enemy’s shipping.”

So, the term started off as military slang. Is it still slang, or is it now a real word?

It depends on whom you ask. 

The Oxford English Dictionary introduced the term in 1989 but still marks it as “slang.”

Merriam-Webster’s, however, counts it as “real.” In 2007, the dictionary admitted ginormous into its pages. M-W noted its etymology as a combination of gigantic and enormous.

Some language purists objected, but Merriam-Webster president John Morse defended the choice.

“There will be linguistic conservatives who will turn their nose up at a word like ginormous,” he said. “But it’s become a part of our language ... It clearly has staying power.”

Staying power, indeed. A search of 2015 news finds ginormous in publications from People to Nature to the Financial Times. In other words, it’s everywhere.

One caution: although ginormous is an accepted word, consider the context in which you use it. It still retains a casual, humorous tone. It may not be the best choice for formal writing.  

So, that’s your tidbit for today. Ginormous is a real word that dates back to the 1940s. Use it in your writing, but save it for less formal pieces. 

Samantha Enslen runs Dragonfly Editorial. You can find her at dragonflyeditorial.com or @DragonflyEdit.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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