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supersize

verb [transitive/intransitive]

to increase significantly in size, or to make something increase significantly in size

supersize

adjective

supersized

adjective

supersizing

noun [uncountable]

'Since the mid-90s, despite a dramatic rise in the costs of energy, millions of Americans have purchased bigger cars and bigger houses, confounding the experts. They can't explain, and economic theory can't explain, why people would want to spend a lot more money supersizing those things.'

The Times, Northwest Indiana 12th March 2005

'Supersize portions are leading to supersize kids and supersize health problems …'

Memphis Parent Magazine May 2004

'Developers are scrambling to build a slew of supersized condo towers in Williamsburg and Greenpoint before the city's sweeping zoning changes – designed to block such buildings – take effect.

New York Daily News 13th March 2005

'And despite the much-maligned supersizing of modern diets, many studies have shown that an inactive lifestyle is at least as important in getting fat.'

Fort Wayne Journal Gazette 13th February 2005

There was a time, not long ago, when the word supersize was mainly confined to the menu boards of a well-known fast food restaurant. However, this word has been catapulted into general use during the past year, characterising not just a sizeable hamburger or portion of chips, but the whole concept of excess in the twenty-first century.

current usage of supersize usually has disapproving overtones, associated not just with a straightforward increase in size but also with the whole idea of excess in twenty-first century society

The term's journey into more widespread use was significantly accelerated by the release in 2004 of the documentary film Super Size Me, in which director and protagonist Morgan Spurlock highlights the health risks associated with a steady diet of fast food. In the film, Spurlock spends a whole month eating nothing but food items from the McDonald's menu, always buying supersize portions when invited at the counter to do so. The resulting 25lb (over 11kg) weight gain and major deterioration in Spurlock's health was a powerful illustration of the recognised link between obesity and a diet based heavily on junk food. The film, subsequently nominated for an Academy Award, brought supersize into the spotlight, its use as both a verb and an adjective gaining substantial currency during the following months.

Current usage of supersize usually has disapproving overtones, associated not just with a straightforward increase in size but also with the whole idea of excess in twenty-first century society: supersize(d) people are fat because they eat excessively, supersize(d) buildings occupy an excessive amount of space. Though primarily used in the context of food, dietary health and weight gain, some of the citations above show the term crossing over into other domains. Typical contexts include the large-scale expansion of road networks or the development of extremely large shopping complexes.

Background – supersize

The word supersize is of course formed from the prefix super-, originating from Latin and meaning 'above, beyond'. Established use of this prefix simply represents the concept of being large in quantity, as for example in supercontinent, superabundant, or superior in quality, e.g. superbike, supercar. However, in the latter half of the twentieth century, productive use of super- increasingly encompassed the idea of inequality and excess, e.g. superpowers had an arguably disproportionate amount of influence relative to other countries, and a supermodel earned an excessive amount of money. Late twentieth century terms like super-rich ('wealthiest') reflect these increasingly disapproving overtones and provide the model for the more recent supersize.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

This article was first published on 18th April 2005.

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