Enormity

n. Outrageous or heinous character; atrociousness (Random House Dictionary)

Thanks to Ross Sussman for this one.  This is one of my favorites because it completely took me by surprise.

I have always used enormity to mean enormousness: large in scope, massive.  Turns out, that is not at all what the word means.  It is only through common usage that the word has come to develop that sense.  Enormity implies a grand scale, but in reference to awful and terrible behavior.  Hitler and Pol Pot best embody the word.

Why then, do to words with clearly the same root take on such different meaning?

From the root, the word carried a sense of being unusal.  Enormous comes from Latin’s enormis, or ex norma for out of the ordinary.  In its earlier usages, this was used to imply a negative connotation.  The word enormous became diluted in its meaning by common usage, but enormity kept its negative spin.  Eventually, the two words meant different things.  Thus, enormousness was born, because enormity no longer served as an appropriate noun form for the word.

Hmm…can anyone think of another word that needed to develop a new form of itself to replace a version that had changed its meaning?

See y’all on Monday.

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