Friday, November 7, 2008

A Freudian slip of the forked tongue


"Let me close by saying that I do not underestimate the enormity of the task that lies ahead."

The Dictionary:

"enormity, noun: an act of extreme wickedness"

How true, how true.


Patricia said...

Why "forked" tongue?

Btw, from Merriam-Webster:

Main Entry: enor·mi·ty
Pronunciation: \i-ˈnȯr-mə-tē\
Function: noun
Inflected Form(s): plural enor·mi·ties
Date: 15th century
1: an outrageous, improper, vicious, or immoral act "the enormities of state power — Susan Sontag" "other enormities too juvenile to mention — Richard Freedman"
2: the quality or state of being immoderate, monstrous, or outrageous ; especially : great wickedness "the enormity of the crimes committed during the Third Reich — G. A. Craig"
3: the quality or state of being huge : immensity "the inconceivable enormity of the universe"
4: a quality of momentous importance or impact "the enormity of the decision"
usage Enormity, some people insist, is improperly used to denote large size. They insist on enormousness for this meaning, and would limit enormity to the meaning “great wickedness.” Those who urge such a limitation may not recognize the subtlety with which enormity is actually used. It regularly denotes a considerable departure from the expected or normal "they awakened; they sat up; and then the enormity of their situation burst upon them. “How did the fire start?” — John Steinbeck". When used to denote large size, either literal or figurative, it usually suggests something so large as to seem overwhelming "no intermediate zone of study. Either the enormity of the desert or the sight of a tiny flower — Paul Theroux" "the enormity of the task of teachers in slum schools — J. B. Conant"

G. M. Palmer said...

Oh forked tongue, because if we've ever had a silver-tongued devil in the White House, it's the Chosen One.

I like the "may not recognize" part. Especially when it means "may not be tolerant of ignorance" -- Steinbeck is certianly using enormity to mean horribleness -- I mean, they're talking about a fire. Theroux is a contemporary, which means his usage is bunk anyway and Conant is speaking of something negative.

The point remains that "enormity" is not used to describe something positive. So Obama is either being exceedingly honest, trying to pull one over on us, or pretending to sound smarter than he is.

Either way, it's something to take note of.

Or are we not allowed to notice this president's verbal gaffes?

Patricia said...

It's fine to notice verbal gaffes, but I really don't think this is one. It's used in the same sense as the last quote I bolded, about the enormity of the task of teachers in slum schools. The US is quite the fixer-upper right now, so, as he's saying, it's a big task to become the president.

Also: someone's usage is bunk just because they're contemporary? I think you're messing with me now. :)

G. M. Palmer said...

I jest,
everything is funny.

See, I laugh!