Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Literally.

My Dear Reader,

I think that everybody should take an English usage class at one point in their lives or another. It opens your eyes to so many things that you miss, and if you have the right teacher, you realize that language is absolutely hilarious. If you pay attention to things that people say every day without thinking, you start to notice that we often say things that we think are completely reasonable, when in reality, they are inherently ridiculous.

Now, I'm not the kind of person who will judge you if you say something incorrectly; I'll just find it incredibly amusing. So, I often try to point it out with the intent that you'll laugh with me. Let's try that, shall we?

One of the funniest mistakes that people make involves the word "literally." It's a word that you use when in order to make it clear that you're not using a metaphor or exaggerating, right? And yet it's often used to mean "really" or "in effect," when an exaggeration or a metaphor is used. For example: when you're watching sports, it's not uncommon* for the announcer to say, "He's literally on fire!" But he's not on fire, not literally. Metaphorically, sure. Literally, he's just doing really well. If he was literally on fire, we would have to call the fire department and remind the poor guy to stop, drop, and roll.

Don't be upset if you do it--everyone does it. I probably do it. But instead of getting down on myself or someone else when someone misuses the word "literal," I try to imagine a situation in which it actually is literal. For example:

Person 1: "I'm sorry I'm late. I was literally stuck at the office all day."

If this were truly literal, then I could only imagine scenario in which Person 1 was trying to leave the office to make it to his/her appointment, when they are foiled by a clever and devious villain, who causes buckets and buckets of a white, sticky substance to come seeping out of the floor! Yes, our hero/ine is stuck in his/her office, quite literally, because of the Elmer's glue that is flooding the desks and cubicles, and no matter how Person 1 tries to escape, fleeing is impossible! S/he tries to wade through it, but it's too thick! S/he struggles with every ounce of energy available, but the glue is only starting to harden! But Person 1 doesn't give up, oh no. With courage and valor, our hero/ine perseveres, step by sticky step, to make it to freedom, but alas! the grueling effort wastes so much time that by the time s/he escapes, the day is gone.*

Meanwhile, the villain watches the entire episode playing on his big screen television, stroking his cat and laughing maniacally.

See? Grammar is fun! All it takes is a thoughtless mistake and a very silly imagination. I encourage you, Gentle Reader, to have as much fun with language as I do. Literally.

Regards, best wishes, and a good sense of harrowing drama,

-Cecily Jane

P. S. No one participated in my experiment! I want you to go sit in a corner and think about what you've done. Or, you can still participate. Your choice.


*Yes, I just used a double negative. BWAHAHAHAHAAAAA!!!

**I hope I put enough exclamation points in that for you.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Oh gosh, I always notive when people say "literally" when that really isn't the case. Like when TAMN at SSB was watching some babies in the park and she said it made her "literally baby hungry"? Comedic gold, my friend.

One thing that bothers me a bit is whe people describe some big extravaganza as an "event". "The State-of-the-Art Multimedia Event of the Year!" ALL things that happen are events. Me typing this is an event. That breath you just took was an event. It's not that exciting of a word.

mjh said...

Please try and get people to stop saying anal in your next post. Think people think. Clever post as usual .

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Anonymous said...

Did you see a few days ago on SSB when TAMN was talking about her twin babies and said, "I literally love them!" Hilarious.