The "Enormity" of Oil Profits by Exxon and Shell?

Clifford Krauss makes a strange word choice to describe record profits by the oil companies Exxon and Shell.

Exxon and Shell reported record annual profits yesterday, $180 million a day between them, and Friday's lead business story by Clifford Krauss, "Record Profit For Exxon And Shell," focused on Democratic disapproval of such "outlandish profits." Judging by his word choice, reporter Krauss would seem to agree.

"Oil prices have fallen, but Exxon Mobil and Royal Dutch Shell left their smaller competitors in the dust and reported record annual profits Thursday.

"By making $180 million a day between them, the two largest publicly traded oil companies displayed their ability to ramp up production worldwide over the year, even in unstable places like Chad and Nigeria. Growth may be slowing and is likely to continue to do so in the future, but these two companies showed they could navigate the year's volatile energy prices that caused smaller companies to stumble in their fourth-quarter profits.

"The expanding profits at Exxon Mobil and Shell, however, may also make them big targets for the Democratic Congress whose leaders want oil companies to pay higher taxes and work to curb global warming."


"While Exxon's fourth-quarter results were actually down a bit from the year before, the enormity of its annual profits had Democratic politicians shaking their heads."

Never mind the reporter's insouciance toward the ideological ramifications of Congress getting involved with how much money a corporation makes. It's that word "enormity" that got Times Watch's attention.

The American Heritage Dictionary (second college edition) defines enormity as "1) The quality of passing all moral bounds; excessive wickedness or outrageousness. 2) A monstrous offense or evil; outrage."

(Another dictionary, Merriam-Webster, does give as a third definition 3) the quality or state of being huge: Immensity." But the word's connotation is still considered negative.)

And the Columbia Journalism Review suggested in 1997 that the word "should be reserved for things that are both huge and evil or outrageous, as in 'their attempt to convey the enormity of the Holocaust.'"

Does the Times truly think oil industry profits are a "monstrous offense or evil"?