Post by Paul Wolff
Yesterday, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, top twigs of the
Episcopalian tree, issued an interesting statement which I can't quite
understand. The Financial Times, a pretty reliable source of facts,
In an open letter to the nation, issued on Tuesday, the
Archbishops write: "As we reach the terrible milestone of
100,000 deaths from Covid-19, we invite everyone in our nation
to pause as we reflect on the enormity of this pandemic."
Well now, my lord bishops, I am reflecting like mad, and I don't see
'enormity' as meaningful for a disease. 'Enormity' as I understand it
implies a moral or legal or social transgression; but I don't see a
pandemic as having those sorts of agency. What is it exactly that we
think their graces want us to reflect upon?
That is not the meaning of enormity I know. This is the only use I am
familiar with, and is the primary meaning.
1 (the enormity of) the great or extreme scale, seriousness, or extent
of something perceived as bad or morally wrong: a thorough search
disclosed the full enormity of the crime.
• (in neutral use) large size or scale: I began to get a sense of the
enormity of the task.
the phrase "or morally wrong" does not exclude the great scale of something
that is bad being something that has no moral weight.
There is a usage note: "Today, however, a more neutral sense as a
synonym for hugeness or immensity, as in he soon discovered the enormity
of the task, is common. Some people regard this use as wrong, arguing
that enormity in its original sense meant ‘an extreme wickedness’ and
should therefore continue to be used only of contexts in which a
negative moral judgment is implied. Nevertheless, the sense of 'great
size' is now broadly accepted in standard English, although it generally
relates to something difficult, such as a task, challenge, or
You had one job to do, and you failed. Now try again and do not return until
you have acquire sufficient TACOS!