Definition of enormity
1 : an outrageous, improper, vicious, or immoral act <the enormities of state power — Susan Sontag> <other enormities too juvenile to mention — Richard Freedman>
2 : the quality or state of being immoderate, monstrous, or outrageous; especially : great wickedness <the enormity of the crimes committed during the Third Reich — G. A. Craig>
3 : the quality or state of being huge : immensity <the inconceivable enormity of the universe>
4 : a quality of momentous importance or impact <the enormity of the decision>
Usage Discussion of enormity
Enormity, some people insist, is improperly used to denote large size. They insist on enormousness for this meaning, and would limit enormity to the meaning “great wickedness.” Those who urge such a limitation may not recognize the subtlety with which enormity is actually used. It regularly denotes a considerable departure from the expected or normal <they awakened; they sat up; and then the enormity of their situation burst upon them. “How did the fire start?” — John Steinbeck>. When used to denote large size, either literal or figurative, it usually suggests something so large as to seem overwhelming <no intermediate zone of study. Either the enormity of the desert or the sight of a tiny flower — Paul Theroux> <the enormity of the task of teachers in slum schools — J. B. Conant> and may even be used to suggest both great size and deviation from morality <the enormity of existing stockpiles of atomic weapons — New Republic>. It can also emphasize the momentousness of what has happened <the sombre enormity of the Russian Revolution — George Steiner> or of its consequences <perceived as no one in the family could the enormity of the misfortune — E. L. Doctorow>.
Examples of enormity in a sentence
We were shocked at the enormity of the crime.
They didn't fully grasp the enormity of their decision.
Did You Know?
Although enormity has been used since the late 1700s to denote large size, this usage continues to be disparaged by various language commentators who argue that enormity should be reserved for senses related to "great wickedness." It is enormousness, they insist (a hefty and considerably less common word), that should be used in reference to great size, despite the fact that, like enormity, it too originally was used to denote wickedness or divergence from accepted moral standards. For better or worse, this proscription has been widely ignored by many English speakers, including professional writers. However one chooses to use them, enormity and enormous can both be traced back to the Latin enormis, from the prefix e- ("out of") and norma ("rule," "pattern," or "carpenter's square").
First Known Use of enormity
ENORMITY Defined for English Language Learners
Definition of enormity for English Language Learners
: a shocking, evil, or immoral act
: great evil or wickedness
: great size
Seen and Heard
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