Word of the day: Enormity

by Elizabeth on November 28, 2007 · 3 comments

in Stuff

n., pl. -ties.

1. The quality of passing all moral bounds; excessive wickedness or outrageousness.
2. A monstrous offense or evil; an outrage.
3. Usage Problem. Great size; immensity: “Beyond that, [Russia’s] sheer enormity offered a defense against invaders that no European nation enjoyed” (W. Bruce Lincoln).

[French énormité, from Old French, from Latin ?normit?s, from ?normis, unusual, enormous. See enormous.]

USAGE NOTE Enormity is frequently used to refer simply to the property of being great in size or extent, but many would prefer that enormousness (or a synonym such as immensity) be used for this general sense and that enormity be limited to situations that demand a negative moral judgment, as in Not until the war ended and journalists were able to enter Cambodia did the world really become aware of the enormity of Pol Pot’s oppression. Fifty-nine percent of the Usage Panel rejects the use of enormity as a synonym for immensity in the sentence At that point the engineers sat down to design an entirely new viaduct, apparently undaunted by the enormity of their task. This distinction between enormity and enormousness has not always existed historically, but nowadays many observe it. Writers who ignore the distinction, as in the enormity of the President’s election victory or the enormity of her inheritance, may find that their words have cast unintended aspersions or evoked unexpected laughter.

In my reading today I’ve come across this word 3 or 4 times, and in each case the author meant “enormousness”. I’m not a complete pedant, but this does seem to be one word that is misused by lots of people.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

ralf November 28, 2007 at 10:26 pm

Maybe they were being subtly sarcastic?


ralf November 28, 2007 at 10:53 pm

Oh, and I dare you to write a letter to your dad saying something along the lines of

“I think as Kevin Rudd starts to guide this country, people will really begin to understand the enormity of John Howard’s 11 year reign.”




Elizabeth November 29, 2007 at 12:54 am

Haha, I love it!

Glad to see you arrived safely in Brisbane. It was great to see you both last night 🙂


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