Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The enormity of the task that lies ahead

Barack Obama is a great writer, and he chooses his words carefully. In last night’s victory speech, I was struck by this sentence, which is problematic: “You did it because you understand the enormity of the task that lies ahead.”

What’s the problem? The problem is the word enormity, which has a primary sense of monstrosity or outrage. Most careful writers avoid using it to mean immensity (see usage notes here and here), although it is that sense (a common one where unselfconscious and less-skilled writers are involved) that I think Obama intended.

Then again, maybe he looked at the ugliness of the current financial and economic crisis and decided that enormity was le mot juste after all.

1 Comments:

Anonymous Timotei said...

Ah, fantastic. Someone else who also cringed when he misused the word (I believe it was indeed a misuse).
Was also very glad to see you as second google result to my search terms.

11:16 AM  

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