Imagination doesn't just mean making things up. It means thinking things through, solving [problems] or hoping to do so, and being just distant enough to be able to laugh at things that are normally painful. [Some people] would call this escapism, but they would be be entirely wrong. I would call fantasy the most serious, and the most useful branch of writing there is.
--Diana Wynne Jones

Friday, September 6, 2013

Literally? No Way.

Lately I've been mocking my family over the way they use the word "literally". I realize they only reflect what they pick up from current linguistic trends in society at large. But that's no excuse for them. I mean, they live with me. And "literally" is my current linguistic pet peeve. It literally is. Er, whatever.

Because, people, this word does not mean seriously. Or a lot. Or coincidentally. Or exclamation point! Or extra emphasis.

It means the opposite of figuratively. Like, I was literally hanging from that rock by my fingernails--yeah, they scratched lines down the surface of the rock and then ripped right off, because, well, fingernails aren't that strong.

As opposed to, I was literally hanging by my fingernails; meaning, I was figuratively hanging by my fingernails. 

Or, I was literally drowning in homework. Meaning, of course, metaphorical drowning. Because literal drowning in homework would seriously be a LOT of homework. Those witch-hunting people of 1600s Salem, Mass., used to call that being "pressed to death," and it's one of the things they liked to do to witches. They had some creative ideas. Literally.
 
Maybe that's the kind of action Jerry Falwell meant we should take when he once said, if we don't act now, the "Homosexual steamroller will literally crush all decent men, women, and children who get in its way and our nation will pay a terrible price."

Yep. Watch out for the gay-roller. It's coming down your street.

I also hear this kind of thing a lot: She was literally just eating rice cakes when she turned on the TV and someone was literally warning the world about how toxic rice cakes are. Yes, that would be a coincidence. No, the word "literally" isn't the one you want. Mainly because I'm sick of hearing it everywhere I literally go. Yes, every single time. Not really.

I'm going to start using figuratively as an emphasis word.

Figuratively, I hate cheese. 

Figuratively, I was walking down the street when I ran into my good friend, Bob, who also happened figuratively to be walking down the street. So we took a figurative walk together into fantasy land.

Which is where I mostly live anyway. There's very little that's literal in my world. Except during bill-pay time. Or tax time. Which is probably why I find the word "literally" so figuratively grating: because, seriously, people, who wants to live in a literal world? 

Fantasy is so much better. Yes, literally.

3 comments:

  1. Agreed. I've told my kids I will literally smack them if they chose to use this word incorrectly. ;)

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=9jh4Mpgbi4A

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    Replies
    1. Studio C is literally awesome. No, figuratively. No, I don't know what they are. Funny, anyway. Thanks for the link, Julie. I'll force my kids to watch it.

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  2. This is figuratively so funny. Thanks for the laugh :D

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