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These self-satisfied cotton manufacturers and merchants had reason to be smug: They stood at the center of a world-spanning empire—the empire of cotton.

This is a sentence from the book Empire of Cotton. I looked up world-spanning, but it apparently doesn't exist in dictionaries. A post on WordReference suggests it possibly means worldwide. What does this word mean exactly? And how common is it?

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The word world-spanning is formed by analogy so that it, and its analogues, are not always going to be found in a dictionary. The empire is one that spans the world.

Such compounds can be pretty much coined as needed, though some are "ready made" collocations.

Compare

tree-hugging commies

earth-shattering news

mind-numbing repetition

tongue-twisting syllables

fire-extinguishing foam

itch-soothing ointment

frequency-modulating device

hair-raising adventure

back-breaking labor

spine-tingling suspense

news-dominating soundbite

mind-altering substance

thirst-quenching beverage

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