Capt. “Sully” Sullenberger was on The Daily Show the other night. Like the rest of the country, I stand in awe of his Hudson River landing, but I cringed when he described being touched by the “enormity” of the response he’s received since the Jan. 15 incident.
This is a hot debate in word nerd circles, but I’ve always been a purist: I don’t like to use “enormity” as a synonym for “immensity” (as though it’s derived from “enormous”). To me, its most correct usage is describing something horrifying — you might refer to the enormity of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, for instance. But a quick Webster’s check has made me reconsider my hard-line stance. Webster’s suggests that “enormity” is appropriate if you’re describing something of a scale that’s considerably out of the norm. I still don’t think I’d ever use the word to describe something overwhelmingly positive, as Sully did, but I won’t limit its application to atrocities, either.