Big Posted by on Jul 30, 2020 in English Language, English Vocabulary

Image by Nel Botha from Pixabay

I was watching a news program the other night, on a very respected network, and heard the host describe something as humongous. While I knew what she meant, I wondered if everyone watching the show would understand. What’s more, I was a bit startled at her choice of adjective, since I’ve always considered the word to be very informal and rather colloquial. Then it occurred to me that she was just trying to conjure up a synonym for one of the most basic words in the English language. She was trying to find a more descriptive word for something that was big.

Whether you are describing size, importance, intensity, or seriousness, you know that the most common words are big and little, and large and small. You also probably know that those words are so common as to have no impact. If you want to stress size, other words must be used instead.

Fortunately, English is a language filled with synonyms for things both big and small. We also have marvelous idioms for matters of size as well. At some later date, I’ll focus on vocabulary for small things, but today let’s go big, shall we?

It’s All About Emphasis

When it comes to big, one size doesn’t fit all. Saying that something is large or big doesn’t clearly describe the object. We need to compare it with something. There was a large dog running loose in the neighborhood. Large like a typical German Shephard, or large like a bear? Was it large in length or in height, or both? The reason that English has so many descriptive words for big things is to paint a clear verbal picture. At least, that’s the intention. Consider these synonyms for big things.

  • Colossal – Comes to us from the ancient statue the Colossus of Rhodes, a statue of the sun god Helios built around nearly 300 B.C. and reportedly standing over 100 feet high.
  • Brobdingnagian – Okay, you don’t hear this word often enough. It refers to a race of giants from the fictional land of Brobdingnag in Jonathan Swift’s book. Gulliver’s Travels.
  • Gargantuan – From the French word Gargantua, a giant with a very large appetite in a book by the poet François Rabelais, The Inestimable Life of Gargantua.
  • Mammoth – This refers to the ancient species, the Mammoth, which lived in the Pleistocene and early Holocene eras. Imagine an African elephant but three times its size.
  • Massive – Something of great size and, therefore, physical mass.
  • Monumental – Large enough to be a natural monument. Think of something like Devil’s Tower in Wyoming.

Image of Devil’s Tower by 3282700 from Pixabay

  • Enormous – Huge and vast
  • Ginormous – This popular colloquialism combines the words giant and enormous.
  • Humongous – Combining the adjectives huge and enormous, with stupendous, a synonym for both large and impressive.
  • Gigantic – Having the characteristics of a giant.

Of Great Importance

Sometimes something large or big can be more than size, it can be important. Most of the following words can be synonymous with those above, but they more commonly refer to things of great meaning, such as a major event.

  • Momentous
  • Consequential
  • Significant
  • Singular
  • Vital

Some Idioms for Big and Large

  • Larger than life – Referring to someone or something deserving of special attention.
  • On a grand scale – Something that was done to draw attention.
  • Over the top – So big as to be almost unbelievable.
  • The bigger they are, the harder they fall – When self-important people fail, they fail spectacularly.
  • That was big of you – Generosity – this is sometimes intended sarcastically.
  • That was a big deal – When something important happens.

This was just a sample of words and phrases associated with big and large. Can you think of others that you’ve heard?

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  1. Alexander Rangel:

    What about pronounciation?

    • Gary Locke:

      @Alexander Rangel You have a valid point. Brobdingnagian is certainly a mouthful, as are some of the others. I’m a great believer in encouraging people who want to learn more. All of the pronunciations for these words can be found online and I hope that you will seek them out, but I will include pronunciation guides when I tackle “Small” later this month. In the meanwhile, here’s a link to Brobdingnagian: