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A wicked honor?

Rosie Right

A reader has reported to Rosie that Lynne Cheney remarked on NPR about the enormity of the honor that came with the selection of her husband to be George W. Bush's running mate. What on earth, says the reader, shouldn't she have said enormous? Doesn't enormity mean something unpleasant?

The answer is a strong Yes and a weak No.

The Associated Press' official dictionary, Webster's New World College Dictionary, fourth edition, defines enormity as "irregular, immoderate, immense, " and then goes on to tell us that it can be defined as "great wickedness … a monstrous or outrageous act." But in the third definition, it reports that it means "enormous size or extent; vastness; in modern use, considered a loose usage by some."

The Oxford English Dictionary says of enormity:

"1. Divergence from a normal standard or type; abnormality, irregularity — obsolete or archaic. Something that is abnormal. 2) Deviation from moral or legal rectitude in later use influenced by enormous…"

Michael Quinion of World Wide Words responded to a question about the word by writing that both enormous and enormity came from the same root - the Latin enormis which is a compound of e, out. plus norma, which was the word for a carpenter's set square or pattern. So something described as enormis was literally misshapen or out of true."

Today, Quinion says that while it would be good to keep the two words apart, "enormity is almost certainly condemned to a future as a grander (and pithier) version of enormousness. Between 5 and 10 percent of its appearances in the British National Corpus already use it this way…"

Still, since Rosie is sure that Lynne Cheney meant that her husband had received a large honor, it would have been clearer if she had stuck with enormous.

Talk the Talk:
The Evernet Age:
"The Evernet age is what comes after the Internet age. The Evernet age is when you will be able to be online everywhere all the time not just from your PC." Thomas Friedman, New York Times, Sept.22

Be sure to call a prune a dried plum. In a marketing strategy, the purveyors of this old friend have changed the labeling to make prunes sound less designed solely for the elderly. Consumer Reports, October 2000, in reporting this, quoted an anonymous memo that read:

"The Federal Witness Reidentification Program recently discovered a fruit that has been living under an assumed name."

Rosie wonders if the insulting phrase used to describe a wrinkled woman, an old prune, will now have to be changed to an old plum. Maybe we can do away with it altogether.

Let Rosie hear from you by telephone (358-0825), letter (1118 W. Main St., Richmond, Va. 23220), fax (358-1079) or e-mail

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