‘Huge’ Is Massive

64618100After Yale upset Baylor in the first round of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, the Bulldogs’ star player, Justin Sears, said, “It’s huge. Just to be among the first guys to get that first big win of the tournament is huge.” After reporting the quote, the New York Times article about the game observed, “It was another huge victory for the Bulldogs.”

As perfect is to goodness, so huge is to literal and metaphorical largeness: the hyperbolic adjective of the moment, supplanting big, grand,enormous, gigantic, the portmanteau words humongous and ginormous, the fancy-schmancy capacious, and the British favorite massive.

It’s a venerable word, dating from Middle English and in currency ever since. Thomas More’s Dialogue of Comfort (1535) has the line, “Howe wonderfull houge and greate those spiritual heauenly Ioyes [joys] are.” Translating Homer in 1791, William Cowper wrote, “So moved huge Ajax to the fight.” But huge has been on a roll the last several decades. You can discern that from a nifty Times tool called Chronicle; a la Google Ngram Viewer, you can type in any word or phrase and see frequency of use in the newspaper’s pages over the years.

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Currently, of course, huge has a celebrity spokesmodel, Donald Trump. Soon after his presidential campaign began, the word became inextricably associated with him–less because he uses it excessively than because it emblematizes his obsession with grandeur, usually his own. It’s now catnip to headline writers:

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And it’s a cornerstone of any Trump imitation, such as this one by Jimmy Fallon:

What’s not so widely known is that someone else is nearly as fond of the word as Trump is: his fellow candidate and native New Yorker Bernie Sanders. When Sanders appeared in a Saturday Night Live sketch, Larry David said he was espousing socialism.  “Democratic socialism,” the Senator responded. “Huge difference.”

“Huge?” David asked.


 A recent Associated Press article reported:

Now at his packed rallies, Sanders’s backers bellow the word with glee as he offers his campaign pledges to break up big financial institutions and overhaul the campaign finance system. In Michigan recently, Sanders bantered with the crowd.

“People want you to think small. Think small,” Sanders said, as cries of “huge” rose from the crowd. “I think it’s time to think big.”

As the crowd kept calling out “huge,” Sanders acquiesced: “All right, you can think huge!”

MSNBC put together a huge Sanders-Trump mashup:

As the clips make abundantly clear, Trump and Sanders pronounce the word the same way: yuge, as opposed to the standard hyuge. The pronunciation, as the linguist Arika Okrent has explained, is very much a New York City thing, with outposts in Philadelphia and Cork and Dublin, in Ireland. By contrast, she notes,

That “y” doesn’t stick around if you’re in East Anglia, where many towns have done away with the “y” clusters altogether by getting rid of “y” in all environments. There they say “bootiful” and “foo” for beautiful and few. Also, they say “hooge” for huge.

As they say on the streets of Trump and Sanders’s (and my) hometown: who knew?

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