enormity

noun
enor·​mi·​ty | \ i-ˈnȯr-mə-tē How to pronounce enormity (audio) \
plural enormities

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

Enormity vs. Enormousness: Usage Guide

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

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").

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.
Recent Examples on the Web The videos released depict a young woman, at first, struggling to grasp the enormity of the incident and her potential liability. Los Angeles Times, 27 Apr. 2022 The sculptor tried to capture the enormity of what Seaver meant to the Mets organization. Deesha Thosar, Hartford Courant, 11 Apr. 2022 While the one-game-at-a-time mantra remains intact within the program, the enormity of what’s happening is beginning to sink in. Stephen Edelson, USA TODAY, 25 Mar. 2022 He was prepared for the enormity of the backlash the club has received from fans and women’s groups, including the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center. cleveland, 28 Mar. 2022 Given the enormity of the event, however, some have questioned how the county or the NFL can reasonably expect to enforce certain health measures. Luke Money, Los Angeles Times, 3 Feb. 2022 Gradually, conservatives are recognizing the enormity of their error in embracing a strategy of free trade and globalization after the Cold War’s end. Andrew Stuttaford, National Review, 19 Mar. 2022 But none of the countries that Zelensky is appealing to now fails to recognize the enormity of either Putin’s actions or his intent, or sees any advantage in aiding or abetting them. The New Yorker, 13 Mar. 2022 And the potential enormity of the error was sensed immediately. Eric Branch, San Francisco Chronicle, 11 Mar. 2022 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'enormity.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

First Known Use of enormity

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

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The first known use of enormity was in the 15th century

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Dictionary Entries Near enormity

enormious

enormity

enormous

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Last Updated

7 May 2022

Cite this Entry

“Enormity.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/enormity. Accessed 23 May. 2022.

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