Big and Bigger


Oh for the simpler days, when things were just large, king-size, or jumbo.

Jumbo was the name of one of the largest elephants ever— six and one half tons of pure pachyderm and the prize property of the London Zoo. Sold to P.T. Barnum, Jumbo went on to become the feature attraction of the greatest show on earth. His fame was such that when he died in a railway accident in Ontario in 1885, people the world over shed copious tears on his passing.

Jumbo also had his moments as a metaphor, but it too passed from the language, joining gargantuan — from the giant of medieval lore popularized by Rabelais; colossal ( from the Greek and Latin for a “giant statue”) for the enormous representation at Rhodes of Helios, the sun god, striding cross the harbor, ships passing between his legs; and titanic — from Greek mythology and the twelve gigantic children of Uranus and Gaea.

Desperate to find ways of stretching hyperbole further, we adopted the love child of huge and tremendous — humongous (late 60s) and his sibling, humongo(id). Finding humongous too big to manage, some reduced him to mongo, as in “Man, this has given me a mongo headache!” Big time relief came with “Small is Beautiful,” from the title of the book by E.F. Schumacher (1978)

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