Saturday, November 08, 2008

Linguistic Patrol: Pre-Inauguration Special

"Let me close by saying I do not underestimate the enormity of the task that lies ahead.  We've taken some major actions to date, and we will need further actions during this transition and subsequent months."

     "Enormity?"  You said a mouthful, Mr. President-Elect.  But probably not like you thought.  (Or -- dahdaddahDAHN -- did he?  ...Checking edge of reality for sprocket holes...  Nope).

     Perhaps I should send a copy of Strunk and White's The Elements of Style to 1600 Pennsylvania with a note asking "Please leave for next tenant."  On the other hand, most of us still have a copy from 8th or 9th-grade English.

     Guess his didn't take.  Ate the covers, maybe?


Home on the Range said...

I have my shares of typos and spell check blunders but I am always endlessly entertained by people that don't know English. I was trapped at an artist showing, something pretentious and overpriced. Not knowing what to say, and wanting to have a little fun with everyone, I mouthed "I liked his earlier works, they were more pristine". and everyone ooo'd and ah'd like I'd just uttered something of great meaning. Pristine means "Of, relating to, or typical of the earliest time or condition"

You know. . EARLIER.

George said...

The catch phrases that become embedded in speech writers' brain cells ... and the tendency to rely upon important sounding words/phrases usually serve to alert those with even moderate intelligence that bushwah is on the way.

One of the reasons I read you (Roberta, Tam, Brigid, Breda) is that I know the pixel patterns on my monitor reflect the real you(se) ... not burped up speechifing.

The fact that you all can sound perfectly lyrical and/or snarky also rewards us regulars.

Oh ... if I find myself pressed to offer an opinion, I fall back on a friend's old standby. "That's interesting."

Always works.


aepilot_jim said...

I'd say he meant thesarus meaning:

A monstrous offense or evil: atrocity, monstrosity, outrage. See right/wrong.

But I might be biased

Anonymous said...

Yeah, confusing "enormity" with "enormousness" always makes me nauseous. But to who can one complain?

Actually, such drawing of distinctions is a sign of rank peasantry. And probably racist, too.

Grrrr>>>>>>Uppity white folks.<<<<<

TW: "Slarthe"
Race of lizard-men, inhabitants of Omicron 5.

phlegmfatale said...

Aw, shucks, if he got a pass on "57 states," shouldn't we overlook the "enormity" thingie? It would be cruel to suddenly start having standards, wouldn't it?

Larry said...

Well, personally I'll give him a pass on enormity. "59% of a usage panel" is hardly a mandate- who has use for pedants anyway. Each of us uses much more egregious contortions of English in our daily and even formal language all the time.

Let's not pick on the
(fairly obscure usages of) form over the content, as they did all too often with Bush- it's petty.

Carteach said...

I think it highly pick worthy, based on the appropriateness of the oopsie.
My own language usage is a bit variable.... Ok, HIGHLY variable.... and I didn't know what this meant without Roberta's link.

That's one reason I read her... she's smart, and sharp!

Roberta X said...

Larry, if we don't make fun of misuses of "enormity," we'll lose that last 9% and the language will be impoverished.

English has no official arbiters (in the manner of, say, French). Someone has to step up.

It's not so much that the man is ignorant -- he got through a top law school, after all -- it's just such an ordinary mistake. After all the build-up, I was hoping for better.

Anonymous said...

Good lord, he said something the other day that had me doing backflips- something about "orientating". I could have reached through the radio....

Anyway, I'm just a Bitter Klinger with an HS education. Can't expect me to know more than someone who was president of the harvard law review (coughAffirmativeactioncough)

Anonymous said...

On the other hand, maybe he does know the true meaning of the word and meant precisely that.

Tam said...


She isn't doing it just because it's Barry and she suddenly decided to get 'specially strict with him.

From ancient grudge breaks forth new mutiny.

(Word Verification: "THELTSHE" A quick and dirty abbreviation of The French Lieutenant's Woman)

Roberta X said...

Gee, I'd almost forgotten about wee little Rolfie an' his newt-on-steroids. But having addressed the enormity once, I could hardly give the incoming El Supremo a pass on it, could I? He's a hero to countless schoolchildren and will be until they have to put down the GameNintendStation and go do their Community Service. When that happens, it'd bring such warmth to my cold and bitter heart if the more Gothic and emo among them could address the bleak and terrible horror of that [requirement, no, edit that...] strong suggestion by using the word "enormity" in the proper sense.

Jenny said...

In fairness, most of the time I've heard that word said before, it was used as a synonym for "gosh-awful big" - so I'd be inclined to give him a pass on it.

If there's one thing the man's good at, it's giving a stirring, persuasive speech about how he'll take care of you*. Gotta give the man his due I think.

* Nevermind that the 20th century's record of people who excelled at giving stirring, persuasive speeches about how they'd take care of people isn't a particularly good one.

Anonymous said...

Not that I'm defending BO Hussein but;


3: the quality or state of being huge


Best part of being Canadian... BO is NOT my president! :)

Anonymous said...


Recall that beginning with the publication of Webster's Third International (in 1961, IIRC), the dictionary's editors have taken a descriptive rather than prescriptive tack on their definitions (and were roundly condemned for doing so). My (c)1990 9th New Collegiate's "enormity" definition includes a rather waffley[1] paragraph on usage that begins by disparaging the "some people" who hold Roberta's view, but then proceeds to acknowledge that "Enormity is used with more subtleness than is usu. indicated... It need not carry overtones of moral transgression, although it most often does. It regularly denotes a considerable departure from the expected or normal..." IOW: Mush.

The point is, since our climate of discourse already has us tiptoeing around "niggardly" because of its nonexistent racist implication, shouldn't we expect our More Literate Betters to recognize the "grave offense against order, right, and decency" that is the #1 definition, and avoid the word (unless it accurately reflects their intent!)?

Else we're back to Humpty Dumpty.

[1] not found, but why not: Characterized by waffling, i.e. foolish equivocation.

Roberta X said...

Could not have said it better myself.

Drang said...

Yeah, confusing "enormity" with "enormousness" always makes me nauseous.
I think you meant "nauseated."
But to who can one complain?


Anonymous said...

You missed peasantry/pedantry.

;-) back at ya!