Evil, not just big

I heard the word “enormity” used correctly this morning (June 18) as I listened to public radio’s “On the Media.” Host Bob Garfield was talking to journalist Alex Todorovic about the Srebenica massacre video. Garfield spoke of the “enormity” of the Srebenica incident. He was referring to the “great evil” of the mass murder of innocent civilians. That is the meaning of “enormity.”

More often these days, we read and hear “enormity” used to describe something that is very large or widespread. What the writers and speakers mean is “enormousness,” which is a rather awkward word. Sometimes, when I am editing a piece and come across “enormity” used to describe great size, I substitute the word “immensity.” “Vastness” would also work. Or we could say it’s just plain big!

We should reserve the use of “enormity” to mean “great evil” or “monstrous wickedness.” We should preserve the power of that word.

Here is a British viewpoint on “enormity.”

This article was originally posted by the Raleigh News & Observer, a subsidiary of The McClatchy Co.; is posted here to provide continuity; and is copyright © 2011 The News & Observer Publishing Company, which reserves the right to remove this post.