Tremlett’s Full Enormity

I fear that complaining about changes in linguistic usage is an early warning sign that I’m in danger of  taking up permanent residence in the snug at Ye Olde Farte, but this one really does create a misleading and rather unkind impression.  From an interview in The Cricketer with England’s 6’8″ fast bowler Chris Tremlett.

“Chris Tremlett’s face appears in the window of the entrance to the Surrey offices at the Oval.  It is a small pane of glass, his is a substantial face and he has to duck to make himself seen by the receptionist inside.  It is a mildly disconcerting sight : Lurch meets Jack Nicholson in The Shining.

Once inside the pokey reception area Tremlett’s full enormity becomes apparent.”

And everyone says what a nice man he is, too.

(“Enormity – refers to something monstrous or wicked, not big” – Guardian Style Guide

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2 thoughts on “Tremlett’s Full Enormity

  1. I’m with you all the way. the problem is that language use to change and evolve very gradually and people had time to absorb the changes into their everyday speech. Now, because of the global nature of communication, words can change their meaning practically overnight. There are lots of words that are misused which really get up my nose, like ‘disinterested’ when people mean ‘uninterested’ and ‘weary’ when they mean ‘wary’ and many, many more. And don’t even get me started on mispronunciation!

    I have a book of changes of meaning and there are some real corkers.

    Horrid in 16thC = bristly or shaggy
    Bully 16thC = sweetheart or fine fellow
    Secretary 14thC = confidant or keeper of secrets
    Frantic 14thC = insane
    Nice 13thC = silly or simple, 14thC = wanton or lascivious, 15thC = coy or shy, 16th C = fastidiour or minute & subtle. Whereas
    Naughty 14thC = poor or needy and eventually to mean bad or of inferior quality until 17thC

    I love words.

  2. Well yes, you could discuss this for hours. I think the general tendency is for words to start out with neutral or pleasant meanings and then gradually acquire negative connotations (which is true of some of your examples – horrid, bully, naughty) and I think this is what happened with “enormity”. It originally just meant “out of the ordinary” but gradually came to mean extraordinarily wicked. I’d guess it’s changing back again simply because “enormousness” sounds a bit silly.

    I think the loss of “disinterested” is a shame because it suggests that the concept of behaving in a disinterested way is being lost along with the word.

    But, in general, I think words have histories rather than fixed and essential meanings, as I think Dr. Johnson eventually acknowledged after he’d tried to compile his would-be definitive dictionary-

    “Those who have been persuaded to think well of my design require that it should fix our language and put a stop to those alterations which time and chance have hitherto been suffered to make in it without opposition. With this consequence I will confess that I flattered myself for a while; but now begin to fear that I have indulged expectation which neither reason nor experience can justify”.

    Innit.

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