Saturday, May 19, 2007


This is David's Definitions for the July issue of Community News.


This is commonly misused to mean "really, really big." "He was amazed by the enormity of the mountains." That is incorrect. Enormity does come from the same Latin root as enormous, but the two words drifted apart long ago. Enormity came to mean something extraordinarily evil or immoral or shocking. So you can speak of the enormity of a crime (meaning its awfulness, not its magnitude). Or you could refer to a major social transgression, such as behaving very badly at a very formal event, as a social enormity, although that meaning is somewhat old fashioned. If you simply want to say that something is really, really big, then talk about its hugeness or its immensity or its enormousness, but not its enormity.


Travis Erwin said...

Despite my years of latin in both high school and college, this is something I did not know. Thanks for sharing. I'm sure I'll screw up in other ways but at least I'll not misuse the word enormity.

David said...

Well, cool!

Now that I think about it, when I took Latin, the focus was on what a word meant to the Romans, not on what English words derived from it. Learning some of that etymology would have been interesting.

But I never took Latin in college, and maybe it's different at that level.

alternatefish said...

You have just made me very very happy in two ways.

First, you have correctly defined a word that most people misuse; misuse of words is one of my pet peeves. (nauseous, anyone? not unless you're causing nausea, dammit. or of course there's irregardless, which isn't actually a word.)

Second, your blog is named after an Anthony Trollope quote. That warms the heart of this little Victorian-obsessed fish.

David said...

Thanks, alternatefish.

Nauseous instead of nauseated is one of my pet peeves, too. Maybe I'll make that one of David's Definitions. Implode and epicenter are two more. I don't want to change that column into one about misused words, but there'd be endless material, wouldn't there?

Leonore and I both love Victorian novels above all other novels, and Trollope is probably our favorite. I wish I could write my novels in that kind of prose and have any hope of getting them published!