The Vocabula Review

October 2008, Vol. 10, No. 10 Monday, September 01, 2014


Mock Merriam
Web version
 

The eleventh edition of "America's Best-Selling Dictionary," Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary (Frederick C. Mish, editor in chief), does as much as, if not more than, the famously derided Webster's Third International Dictionary to discourage people from taking lexicographers seriously. "Laxicographers" all, the Merriam-Webster staff reminds us that dictionaries merely record how people use the language, not how people ought to use the language. Some dictionaries, and certainly this edition of Merriam-Webster, actually promote illiteracy.

Consider the following entry from the 11th edition of Merriam-Webster's, and perhaps you, too, will mock Merriam:

enormity
Pronunciation: \i-nor-mə-tē\
Function: noun
Date: 15th century
1: an outrageous, improper, vicious, or immoral act
2: the quality or state of being immoderate, monstrous, or outrageous; especially: great wickedness
3: the quality or state of being huge: IMMENSITY
4: a quality of momentous importance or impact

Consider the mealy-mouthed Merriam-Webster usage note that accompanies this definition:

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> and may even be used to suggest both great size and deviation from morality <the enormity of existing stockpiles of atomic weapons — New Republic>. It can also emphasize the momentousness of what has happened <the sombre enormity of the Russian Revolution — George Steiner> or of its consequences <perceived as no one in the family could the enormity of the misfortune — E. L. Doctorow>.

"Those who urge such a limitation may not recognize the subtlety with which enormity is actually used." Is that the best Merriam-Webster can do, the most convincing argument they can make? Those who maintain there is a distinction between enormousness and enormity are far more attuned to subtlety and nuance than the laxicographers at Merriam-Webster, who would have one word mean much the same as the other. It is they, those dimwits at Merriam-Webster, who fail to recognize subtlety when they write enormity means enormousness.

Merriam-Webster's promotes the misuse of enormity, but it does not include the far more interesting and useful baffona.

Merriam-Webster: no longer "your assurance of quality and authority."

Mock Merriam.

More Mock Merriam

Do you find fault with an entry in the 11th edition of Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary? Tell us what it is.

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