Thursday, April 01, 2010

An Enormity of Enormous Proportions

In today's "Dear Prudence" advice column on Slate, Prudie counsels a young woman who's having difficulty relating to a father who has been incapacitated by a stroke. She reminds the letter-writer to offer support to her mother as well:
Being a caretaker is arduous work, made all the harder by the enormity of your father's losses. 
Here we find one of the more common word mis-usages. Enormity does not refer to amplitude. Rather, it denotes, to quote the American Heritage Dictionary, "a monstrous offense or evil; an outrage." So, to be accurate, we can speak of the enormity of the injustice that occurred when Ben Affleck was awarded an Oscar. But we can only bemoan the enormousness of the pain the movie-going public has been subjected to by his performances.