And just what does ‘big’ mean, anyway?

A few days ago I posted about some students who wrote ‘The United States is bigger than Canada’ as an example of a comparative sentence. Since then I’ve been pondering just what ‘big’ means, anyway. I’ve constructed some sentences showing various meanings of the word, most of which we have no trouble understanding.

Nanotechnology is big these days. (importance, popularity) Flat screen tvs are big these days. (popularity, physical size)
Busan is bigger than Daegu, but Seoul is the biggest city in South Korea. (population) Daegu is bigger than Busan, but Andong is the biggest city in South Korea. (geographical area)
Leaving out that decimal point was a big mistake. (important consequences)
Luciano Pavarotti was the biggest opera singer of the late 20th century. (popularity, ?physical size)
Fleetwood Mac got bigger after Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks joined. (numerically, ?popularity, ?chart success)
Xi is the biggest name in Chinese politics. (importance) Papadopolous-Christadoulou is the biggest name in Greek politics. (length) (Not true, but I once saw someone with that name interviewed on a tv news report.)

So the USA is definitely bigger than Canada in terms of population and importance, and arguably in terms of popularity.

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