n. pl. e·nor·mi·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.
[French énormité, from Old French, from Latin ēnormitās, from ēnormis, 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 people 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. A majority of the Usage Panel has rejected the general use of enormity since the 1960s, and although resistance to this usage has lost some of its intensity, it remains strong. In our 1967 survey, 93 percent of the Panel rejected the word's use to refer to physical extent in the example The enormity of Latin America is readily apparent from these maps. In both our 1988 and 2002 surveys, 59 percent of the Panel rejected the use of enormity as a synonym for immensity in the example At that point the engineers sat down to design an entirely new viaduct, apparently undaunted by the enormity of their task. Even if one sides with the dissenting 41 percent and allows for enormity's largeness, it may be best to avoid it in phrases like the enormity of the president's election victory and the enormity of her inheritance, where enormity's sense of monstrousness may give rise to unintended smirks.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2020 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
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