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The Judgmental Grammar Snob is Literally All Bent Out of Shape January 14, 2009

Posted by markgeil in Literally the best post ever!.
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I’m a judgmental grammar snob. The good thing is, I’m not the most vocal grammar snob around. I have learned that it’s usually best to cast my stones in my head, except when I’m correcting my children, which is my duty as a parent, right? And I do  know I’m not perfect. See, I just started a sentence with an article.

This morning, though, I must join the chorus of grammarians who sadly see another word slipping away. That word is “literally”. Once upon a time it was an adverb meaning something actually happened, word-for-word, without exaggeration. Somehow, though, we as a society have made  a collective decision (I voted nay) to give the word the opposite meaning! Now it means, “What follows is a figure of speech, an idiom, an exaggeration that did not actually happen.”

To wit: I heard an interview on the radio this morning with a high school senior, a member of the South Cobb High School band from right here in my county. They’ve been selected to play in the inaugural parade in D.C. next week. The proud student spoke of her hard work thusly: “I started as a freshman, so I’ve been working my butt off, literally, for four years.” How sad. She finally gets to play in the biggest event of her life and she has no butt.

If you stop and think about it, most people who use the word “literally” like our dear band member should instead be using “figuratively”, which happens to be the complete opposite word!

Recently, Joe Biden took the word to new heights in his campaign speeches. In declaring that Obama, “made his mark literally from day one reaching across the aisle to pass legislation to secure the world’s deadliest weapons,” Biden would have us believe that on very his first day in the hallowed halls of the Capitol, he left some sort of mark or blemish (Sharpie, perhaps?) on one side of the aisle. It’s good for him that he wasn’t kicked out after that apparent episode of first-day vandalism.

Newsweek’s Andrew Romano noted that the Vice President-elect noted emphatically in a speech that Obama has the ability to “literally, literally change the direction of the world.” Not only can he somehow alter the orbit of the entire planet, he can DOUBLE-LITERALLY alter the orbit of the entire planet. I saw Superman do that once, when he made the planet spin backwards, but I don’t think that was real. In another speech, Biden stated that “your children’s futures [are] literally, literally, literally at stake.” Wow! TRIPLE-LITERALLY!

Many have written about this sad death of a word. Today, I join the crusade. I literally shall not rest until we have literally grabbed this word, literally, from jaws of misuse and returned it to its rightful place in our noble dictionaries. I wonder how long this will take. I do need my sleep.

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Comments»

1. Lane McGullion - January 28, 2009

I’m literally beside myself as I now share your concern. I know, this typically only happens in sci-fi flicks and cloning experiments; nonetheless, I sit here staring at my doppleganger in dismay. Keep me posted on your crusade.

2. markgeil - January 29, 2009

I was literally moved to tears to learn that another has taken up the crusade. It was a tough move – they always are – but the boxes finally fit in the U-Haul. Tears is nice. A little wet, but nice.

3. markgeil - January 29, 2009

Oh, also, extra credit to Lane for using the word “doppleganger” in a comment. For doppleganger amusement, visit:


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