Last night (Thursday 6 September 2012) our vice-president gave a rousing speech in the build-up to the president’s appearance before the enormously enthusiastic attendees at the Democratic National Convention.
Biden has acquired something of a rep as Mr. Mal-a-Prop for his ‘bidenisms’, and last night certainly offered an unfortunate example of same. Here is what he said at one point:
You know, Barack and I, we’ve been through a lot together these four years, and we learned about one another, a lot about one another. And one of the things I learned about Barack is the enormity of his heart. And I think he learned about me the depth of my loyalty to him. (Cheers, applause.) [My bold]
Nobody doubts Biden’s loyalty to Obama, but “the enormity of his heart”? This particular catachresis, while the kind of thing one used to be taught (and good students remembered) to avoid back in the day when composition was still being taught in a serious way, is unfortunate indeed in an individual of Biden’s current stature. What Biden meant of course was something like “the enormousness of his heart” or, even more suitably, “the greatness of his heart”?
I think not!
Webster’s, to take one reliable example, gives these synonyms for ‘enormity’:
atrociousness, atrocity, badness, depravedness, depravity, diabolicalness, evilness, heinousness, hideousness, monstrosity, sinfulness, vileness, wickedness.
And the OED , deeming the domain of ‘size’ to be obsolete for this word, offers the following definitions for ‘enormity’: “extreme or monstrous wickedness” and “a breach of law or morality; a transgression, crime; in later use, a gross and monstrous offence”.
You’d think a language-challenged veep would have a few literates going over his desultory musings about his boss.
[Incidentally, that appended “(Cheers, applause.)” in the above citation is surely an ironic … well … enormity of the loftiest order!]