November 28, 2022

The enormity of it all!

Being a good editor requires a certain personality type: someone persnickety, obsessive, hawk-eyed and meticulous. Not being that sort of person myself, I can still appreciate their virtues. A good editor fusses about capitalisation, proper usage, consistent spelling, and the Oxford comma and loses sleep over knaves who cannot distinguish between “discrete” and “discreet”.

But there is one point on which the good editor and I agree: the enormity of writing “normalcy” when one means “normality”. I recently read in a not-to-be-named journal, “As the boundaries between human and ‘the other’, technological, biological and environmental, are eroded and perceptions of normalcy are challenged…” No. No. No. No. The word is “normality”.

The virus of “normalcy” has spread like a particularly pernicious strain of influenza through the media. A quick Google search brings up: “Nikki Haley's Departure Is Shocking Because Of Its Normalcy” and “Anger Recedes as Normalcy, Good Humor Mark Kavanaugh’s First Day on Supreme Court”.

Do you know who put “normalcy” on the map, so to speak? Warren G. Harding, who succeeded Woodrow Wilson in the White House. In 1920 the slogan of his campaign was “a return to normalcy”. The word should have died with his reputation as the worst of American presidents.

Sorry, I just had to get that off my chest. And please don’t get me started on the misuse of “enormity” for “enormousness”.

Michael Cook
An excursion into English usage