12 Old Words for the Huge, Mammoth, and Gargantuan

When something—say, a canyon or mistake—is truly enormous, the same old small time words like colossal and massive don’t always get the job done. Fortunately, there are plenty of older, rarer words for the gargantuan and elephantine just waiting to make your vocabulary immensive. Use these words the next time you see something hugy.


As far back as Old English, unmeet has been a word for the immense. This played off a sense of meet meaning the Goldilocks size: just right and proper, or at least not freakishly big or small. Unless you’re a basketball player, 7-foot-tall is an unmeet height.


These days, hideous is only a word for the ugly, defined by the OED with words like “Frightful, dreadful, terrible, horrible.” But hideous has also been a word associated with size since the early 1300s, which makes sense, since nothing is as frightful, dreadful, terrible, and horrible as a giant monster. Poet Edmund Spenser used the term in this sense back in 1596: “Of stature huge and hideous he was, Like to a Giant for his monstrous hight.” The size-centric meaning is even clearer in an example from Jedidiah Morse’s 1796 book The American Universal Geography: “The great precipice below, which hangs over the sea, is so hideous.” With this meaning in play, even the Grand Canyon is hideous.


The -y suffix was surprisingly productive back in days of yore, and it still is today, when you can’t even find yore on the internet. Here and there since the 1400s, the handy -y suffix could be found modifying huge. In 1728’s The Comedy of the Provok'd Husband; Or A Journey to London by Sir John Vanbrugh & C. Cibber, the odd phrase “hugey business” appears. Since the 1500s, another redundancy has been hugeous.


In Gulliver’s Travels, this was the name of a country where King Kong would feel at home, maybe not in terms of being a gorilla, but because everything was gigantic. This literary use led to the noun becoming an adjective, as shown in OED examples mentioning “Brobdingnag beehives” and “Brobdingnag genius.” Presumably, the latter would be smart enough to avoid the former.


Green’s Dictionary of Slang (GDoS) traces honking back at least to the late 1980s, where it seems to have been part of college slang, turning up in references to “a honking textbook” from 1989 and a “honkin’ amount of homework” from 1992. The OED has an older example, but it feels like more of an intensifier (and euphemism for the f-word) than a size-related word. Here’s the usage from the Salisbury Times in 1943: “Great honking hornets, you creep, why don't you..get hep to the fact there's bloodshed going on!”


The always terrific Dictionary of Regional English (DARE) records this term for the massive and unwieldy with examples from the early 1900s of “a mastrous large school for this district” and a “masterous price.” Godzilla, you could say, was a masterous lizard.


This is a contronym. Dimensionless has, at times, referred to stuff so tiny that it’s impossible to measure. But it’s also referred to things so hugy that they’re also impossible to measure. An 1813 use in New Monthly Magazine makes the mega meaning clear: “Here, in these almost dimensionless regions, nature is seen on a large scale.”


Words usually have siblings, and immensive—a near-identical twin of immense—is quite obscure but means the same: immeasurable. Similarly, gigantine is a variation of gigantic, and a great word to use when describing the pyramids or frost giants.


This adjective has conveyed many senses of the Python from Greek mythology—a serpent-type monster which was killed by Apollo—as well as the snake with the same name. One quality all pythons (real or mythic) have is size, and so pythonic has sometimes described ginormousness. A 1903 issue of Blackwood’s Edinborough Magazine refers to “Huge wooden sheds and pythonic iron pipes.”


Fairly or unfairly, the pig is the patron farm animal of hugeness. So it’s no surprise this doubly bulky term refers to the biggish. DARE records a 1954 example from Tennessee of “Fattening hog post card” referring to “A jumbo-sized post card.” What a useful term. There could be fattening hog meals, fattening hog buildings, fattening hog paperwork, and fattening hog offensive linemen. I hope to one day read about a humanitarian with a heart as big as the fattening hog outdoors.

How Do You Stress the Word: THANKSgiving or ThanksGIVing?

Here’s something else to stress about for Thanksgiving: where to put the stress in the word Thanksgiving.

If you’re from California, Iowa, or Delaware, you probably say ThanksGIVing, with the primary stress on the second syllable. If you’re from Georgia, Tennessee, or the Texas Panhandle, you probably say THANKSgiving, with the primary stress on the first syllable.

This north-south divide on syllable stress is found for other words like umbrella, guitar, insurance, and pecan. However, those words are borrowed from other languages (Italian, Spanish, French). Sometimes, in the borrowing process, competing stress patterns settle into regional differences. Just as some borrowed words get first syllable stress in the South and second syllable stress in the North, French words like garage and ballet get first syllable stress in the UK and second syllable stress in the U.S.

Thanksgiving, however, is an English word through and through. And if it behaved like a normal English word, it would have stress on the first syllable. Consider other words with the same noun-gerund structure just like it: SEAfaring, BAbysitting, HANDwriting, BULLfighting, BIRDwatching, HOMEcoming, ALMSgiving. The stress is always up front, on the noun. Why, in Thanksgiving alone, would stress shift to the GIVE?

The shift to the ThanksGIVing pronunciation is a bit of a mystery. Linguist John McWhorter has suggested that the loss of the stress on thanks has to do with a change in our concept of the holiday, that we “don’t truly think about Thanksgiving as being about thankfulness anymore.” This kind of thing can happen when a word takes on a new, more abstract sense. When we use outgoing for mail that is literally going out, we are likely to stress the OUT. When we use it as a description of someone’s personality ("She's so outgoing!"), the stress might show up on the GO. Stress can shift with meaning.

But the stress shift might not be solely connected to the entrenchment of our turkey-eating rituals. The thanksGIVing stress pattern seems to have pre-dated the institution of the American holiday, according to an analysis of the meter of English poems by Mark Liberman at Language Log. ThanksGIVing has been around at least since the 17th century. However you say it, there is precedent to back you up. And room enough to focus on both the thanks and the giving.

TAKWest, Youtube
Watch Boris Karloff's 1966 Coffee Commercial
TAKWest, Youtube
TAKWest, Youtube

Horror legend Boris Karloff is famous for playing mummies, mad scientists, and of course, Frankenstein’s creation. In 1930, Karloff cemented the modern image of the monster—with its rectangular forehead, bolted neck, and enormous boots (allegedly weighing in at 11 pounds each)—in the minds of audiences.

But the horror icon, who was born 130 years ago today, also had a sense of humor. The actor appeared in numerous comedies, and even famously played a Boris Karloff look-alike (who’s offended when he’s mistaken for Karloff) in the original Broadway production of Arsenic and Old Lace

In the ’60s, Karloff also put his comedic chops to work in a commercial for Butter-Nut Coffee. The strange commercial, set in a spooky mansion, plays out like a movie scene, in which Karloff and the viewer are co-stars. Subtitles on the bottom of the screen feed the viewer lines, and Karloff responds accordingly. 

Watch the commercial below to see the British star selling coffee—and read your lines aloud to feel like you’re “acting” alongside Karloff. 

[h/t: Retroist]


More from mental floss studios