Professional Style

Enormity

December 2008
Spot the Error

Because the enormity of the chairman’s tasks would overwhelm a single person, the committee’s activities have traditionally been directed by co-chairmen.

Enormity and enormousness may sound alike, but they don’t mean the same thing. You may feel inclined to use enormity because it sounds more eloquent than the clunky enormousness, but don’t use them interchangeably. (Yes, the dictionary says you can, but you’re smarter than that … at least you will be in a minute.)

Enormity means monstrous wickedness. For example:

Is it the enormity of his crimes or the fact that his identity remains a mystery that makes Jack the Ripper so intriguing?

In the “committee” sentence above, it’s unclear whether the chairman’s tasks are numerous, monumental, or both. However, from the context, they are most likely not monstrously wicked.

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