Monday, June 03, 2002

THE ENORMITY OF"ENORMITY" IN MODERN USAGE: Go ahead, call me a pedantic twit, but this line from the Washington Post article I complain about below made me snicker:
The White House maintains that Bush has developed this vision throughout his candidacy and presidency by stressing the end of the armed conflicts among the world's great powers that characterized the past two centuries. "The war on terrorism and the enormity of that and the enormity of American leadership and the kind of earthquake that has produced in international politics puts us in a different place than we were two years ago," a senior administration official said. "But clearly, the elements were always there." (emphasis added)
While the terrorist attack that ignited the present conflagration is by any measure an "enormity," only the most repugnant appease-nik would characterize the "war on terrorism" or "American leadership" as an "enormity," i.e. "great wickedness, ... a monstrous or outrageous act; very wicked crime" (Webster's New World Dictionary, 3d College Edition, 1988). Snicker, snicker. But the snicker is on me: my Webster's also defines "enormity" as "enormous size or extent; vastness," albeit with this caveat: "in modern use, considered a loose usage by some." Meanwhile, Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary sneers that "some people insist [enormity] is improperly used to denote large size ... may not recognize the subtlety with which enormity is actually used. It regularly denotes a considerable departure from the expected or normal. When used to denote large size, either literal or figurative, it usually suggests something so large as to seem overwhelming and may even be used to suggest both great size and deviation from morality. It can also emphasize the momentousness of what has happened or of its consequences." When the walls fall down and the barbarians enter the citadel, I suppose even a curmudgeonly prescriptivist like me must bow in allegiance to his new masters.

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