My campaign against the “ness” monster — the use of “valorousness” instead of “valor,” “resoluteness” for “resolution” or “resolve,” “perfidiousness” for “perfidy,” and so on — has not attracted the universal support on which I had counted.
Eugene Volokh, a linguistic liberal and democrat, agrees on “perfidiousness” (which is no more than a mistaken back-formation), but balks at insisting on, for example, “credulity” rather than “credulousness.” Why, he reasons, should the Latinate “ity-” and “-itude” forms, which vary from word to word, be preferred to the regularity of the Germanic “-ness”? Eugene points to evidence that in some cases what I regard as the proper forms aren’t actually much older in usuage than what I regard as mistakes.
Well, I still like my side of the argument (in part because I find the duplicated sibilant of the “-ousness” formulations hard on the ear) but the ethics of controversy requires that I bring to your attention a strong bit of evidence on Eugene’s side.
In Chapter 2 of the Decline and Fall, Gibbon refers to the “ferociousness” of some of the barbarians whom Rome confronted. That still seems to me like a much inferior expression to “ferocity” — say them both aloud, and decide for yourself which sounds scarier — but if the test of a language is how it is written by those who write it best, I can’t really deny that Gibbon has more authority than Kleiman.