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From Middle French énormité, from Latin ēnormitās, from ēnormis.



enormity (countable and uncountable, plural enormities)

  1. (uncountable) Extreme wickedness, nefariousness, cruelty. [from 15th c.]
    Not until the war ended and journalists were able to enter Cambodia did the world really become aware of the enormity of Pol Pot's oppression.
    • 2015 June 6, Duncan White, “Boston Marathon bombing: New book 'Road to a Modern Tragedy' examines Tsarnaev brothers' motivation [print version: Behind the mask, page R23]”, in The Daily Telegraph (Review)[1], London, archived from the original on 11 June 2015:
      Hannah Arendt coined the phrase "the banality of evil" in her dispatches for The New Yorker from Adolf Eichmann's trial in Jerusalem in 1961. It was her attempt to square the mediocrity of the man with the enormity of his crimes.
  2. (countable) An act of extreme evil or wickedness. [from 15th c.]
    • 1870 July, Jean-Henri Merle d’Aubigné, “Art. VII.—Dr Merle D’Aubigne on the Council and Infallibility. The Council and Infallibility: An Address Delivered at Geneva, 10th December 1869, by M. Merle D’Aubigne, D.D. Paris: Michel Levy, 1870.”, in The British and Foreign Evangelical Review, volume XIX, number LXXIII, London: James Nisbet & Co., Berners Street; Edinburgh: Oliver & Boyd, OCLC 5899908, page 591:
      Monsters of impurity, avaricious wretches, poisoners, have occupied the papal see. A learned bishop (Maret of the General Council) expresses himself with holy indignation in reference to the frightful enormities of the tenth century.
  3. (uncountable) Hugeness, enormousness, immenseness. [from 18th c.]
    • 2007, Edwin Mullins, The Popes of Avignon, Blue Bridge, published 2008, page 103:
      But the enormity of Clement's vision of papal grandeur only became clear once the public rooms were completed during the years that immediately followed.
    • 2012 May 13, Alistair Magowan, “Sunderland 0–1 Man Utd”, in BBC Sport[2], archived from the original on 13 March 2015:
      [Wayne] Rooney and his team-mates started ponderously, as if sensing the enormity of the occasion, but once [Paul] Scholes began to link with Ryan Giggs in the middle of the park, the visitors increased the tempo with Sunderland struggling to keep up.

Usage notes[edit]

Enormity is often used as a synonym for enormousness, rather than “great wickedness”. This is frequently considered an error; the words have different roots in French, and radically different accepted meanings, although both trace back to the same Latin source word enormis meaning “deviating from the norm, abnormal”.

Related terms[edit]