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enormity

Printable Version Pronunciation: ee-nor-mê-tee Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. An unspeakable atrocity, a monstrously evil act. 2. The state of being monstrously evil.

Notes: Today's Good Word is a trick word; it should mean "enormousness" but it isn't used that way. This problem arose when the meaning of enormous changed from "abnormal" to "huge", but the meaning of enormity didn't follow the lead of its root. In fact, its meaning changed to what it is today.

In Play: The sense of enormousness does lurk in the shadows of this word's meaning, the enormousness of an evil and the damage caused by it: "The enormity of the fraud at Enron places it among the greatest corporate scandals in US history." Here is a sentence that might help distinguish the two meanings: "The enormity of Stalin's purges of all political opposition in the 30s was enormous."

Word History: Until the 18th century an enormity was an abnormality or anomaly. The root of the word is enorm "abnormal, perverted" from Latin enormis "abnormal, enormous" based on e(x) "out of" + norma "a ruler, a norm." Latin norma was borrowed from Greek gnomon "carpenter's square or rule" via Etruscan. The root of gnomon is the same as that of English know, found also in Latin ignorare "to not know", from which we borrowed both ignore and ignorant. The original meaning of the adjective enormous drifted to abnormal in size, while that of its noun, enormity, drifted to enormous immorality. (We, by the way, owe an enormous debt of gratitude to Rogers George for suggesting today's Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword, alphaDictionary.com

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