Tuesday, August 17, 2010

I have a pet peeve. Ok, I have a lot of pet peeves. Seriously, a book should be written about all the things that people do that bother me. This one annoyance has bothered me for years. YEARS. And that, Internet, is the blatant misuse of the word literally.

I can remember the exact moment that I started hating this word. I was in 9th grade. A girl that I knew was up at the chalk board answering a question when she got choked on something. And she coughed and choked a few times but nothing that anyone thought we needed to call 911 or something. When she recovered, she said, "I was LITERALLY choking!" and she went on to repeat that phrase what felt like 852 times. "I was LITERALLY choking!" I remember going home and telling my mom about it and saying, "Of course she was literally choking. What other kind of choking is there? FIGURATIVELY choking?"


Since that time, the complete and utter misuse of this world has bothered me in a way I can't really express in human terms. And it has gotten worse because LITERALLY has become a very mainstream word.

Take our good friend and celebrity stylist Rachel Zoe. CLEAR MISUSE, RACHEL.

A friend emailed me last night and said she had been sitting in a lecture when the speaker said, "We will open the world to you...literally." No. Not literally. What he should have said was, "We will open the world to you....figuratively."

And this, friends, is where you come in. We are starting a revolution. Please use the word literally correctly and encourage others to do the same. For example, if you went to the DMV and had to wait awhile and you said, "Literally, I just waited 30 hours at the DMV." Now you probably didn't really wait 30 hours. So say, "Figuratively, I just waited 30 hours at the DMV."

And don't bother writing our president about this problem. His administration are some of the offenders. See how Arne Duncan thinks we are literally walking backwards here. And google "Joe Biden literally" for examples of his overuse of the word.

Go ahead. Google it. I'll wait.

Here's the thing: Everyone has a word or words that they use to add emphasis. I use "honestly" and "seriously." So I would say something like, "Seriously. I just waited 30 hours at the DMV." Some people say "truthfully" or "Here's the thing." Pick something like that to replace the "literally"s in your life. And Viva La Revolucion! Or I might poke your eyes out....figuratively.


Scott said...

So when you said you'll wait while your readers google "Joe Biden literally" does that mean you were literally waiting or was that just a figure of speech? Great post though. I enjoy words and examining them and this post, figuratively, grabbed my attention and held it. I literally read it a couple of times.

The Ratpack said...

definitely agree. It's one of my pet peeves as well. Either choose to say what actually happened, or choose to use a different word than literally!

Natalie Hudkins said...

Great post! I read it verbatim. For your next rant can you tackle the rampant misuse of their/there/they're. And to/too. Because I just want to take a red pen to people's blogs. Cut and paste it to Microsoft Word if you don't have a good grip of the English language people.

thingsineverlearned said...

Hey, I just came across your blog and, after reading this post, felt I had to share this link:


I don't know if you're familiar with David Cross's standup, but this should be right up your alley. :)

Lela said...

I remember being really young (we still lived in Saudi, so I was in elementary) and hearing my dad say something was "literally thrown across the room" and whatever it was COULDN'T have been literally thrown across the room, so I decided "literally" meant "not really." Maybe we should just change the meaning of literally. It'd probably be easier than getting everybody to use it correctly.

(Doesn't "truthfully" pose the literally the same problem as "literally?")

Melanie said...

This is exactly how I feel about the phrase "needless to say." If someone tells a story and then inserts that phrase, I am thinking, "If it is needless to say, then why are you saying it?"