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Pride, as an African American

I want to express to you how wonderfully written your article on Dr. Blalock and Vivien Thomas was ["Almost a Miracle," February]. As an African American, I was able to feel such pride, enthusiasm, dignity and love for both Vivien Thomas and Dr. Blalock. Your article depicted the true spirit of both men. Had I not seen the production [on television] on Feb. 10, I know I would have gotten the "guts" of the story from your article.

Mary Dozier
Human Resources Benefits Administration
University Administration

Enormity: An Etymology

Your use of the word enormity adds much humor to your publication, although I believe is unintentional on your part. It's a word that has a meaning different from what might be expected: according to Webster's dictionary it means "an outrageous, improper, vicious, or immoral act."

It therefore comes as a surprise that in reference to a surgical breakthrough by Alfred Blalock and Vivien Thomas ["Almost a Miracle," February] you write: "the enormity of that day alone was enough to rivet ..."

Dome also used the word enormity a few years ago in reference to Bloomberg's generous financial gifts to the School of Public Health; the article was passed around and served as a source of quite a few jokes. Unless you are using the word "enormity" as a way to make subtle comments, you may want to tell your copy editor to prevent the use of this word in the future.

Richard Miech
Assistant Professor
Department of Mental Health
Bloomberg School of Public Health

Ed.s Note: We dusted off our Webster's and found three definitions:

  1. a grave offense against order, right, or decency
  2. the quality or state of being immoderate, monstrous, or outrageous
  3. the quality or state of being huge.

Webster's continues with the following discussion of usage:

"Enormity, some people insist, is improperly used to denote large size and is properly used only to denote wickedness, outrage, or crime. They recommend 'enormousness' for large size. Enormousness, however, is simply not a popular word. It developed later than enormity and in about the same way: its first sense (equivalent to enormity 1) appears to have dropped out of use; its second sense is used less frequently than sense 3 of enormity. Enormity's third sense has continued in use from the end of the eighteenth century; it has been stigmatized as incorrect, for unknown reasons, since the end of the nineteenth."

Dome enthusiastically welcomes debates on style and usage - and stands by its use of enormity.



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