Grammar Gripe: I'm Literally Going to Kill You

Turns out, most people use it to LITERALLY mean the opposite of what it does. Let's review, shall we?

No I'm not, but, one would only realize this if they understood what literally actually meant. Turns out, most people use it to LITERALLY mean the opposite of what it does. Let's review, shall we?


lit·er·al·ly actually; without exaggeration or inaccuracy

fig·ur·a·tive - of the nature of or involving a figure of speech,  especially a metaphor

In plain language, by saying something literally happened you are saying this is exactly what happened. So, I am going to make a few assumptions. By virtue of the fact that you're reading this, you have never literally died from anything, including embarrassment, fright, or sadness; your head has never literally exploded due to anger; your heart has never literally been broken (With the exception of someone who is reading this and has had some sort of heart surgery, I will give you that one); and you have probably never even wanted to literally murder anyone. Now, shamefully think about all the times you have said those things.

See what I'm going for here people? These things happen figuratively, but people think that by saying "literally" (often pronounced liiiiiiiiiterally) that they're stressing how extreme the situation is. Doesn't work that way. I read one today on a LinkedIn profile: "I literally fell into public relations." Really? You fell into a big bucket of PR, did you? Honestly, as someone who works in PR, I can't imagine using this on my casual Facebook page, let alone my professional LinkedIn profile.

Yes, I know what you are trying to do, but think about the fact that you sound like a blowhard illiterate. There, I said it! Knowing the definitions of words is part of being educated. If you don't know the definition of a word, don't use it. This is something I have to regularly tell the college students whose papers I grade. It's embarrassing.

Next time you want to throw out the L-word, take a step back and imagine the scenario in your head as if it's actually happening. If someone's pants aren't literally on fire because they lied to you, just leave the word literally out of the equation. "Literally" is tired of being misused and "figuratively" is annoyed at the lack of credit we give him.

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Dan Wooldridge October 08, 2011 at 03:18 PM
Wow. I'm breathless. Great postings, and everyone on point and polite. Cool and literate column without pommeling of others. This must be the better Misson Viejo.
Barbara McMurray October 08, 2011 at 04:01 PM
Oops. Tag, you're it, Dan. Without pummeling you, please allow me to correct your spelling. Unless of course you meant that we commenters avoided jumping up on each other and athletically whipping our legs around in a circle, as gymnasts do. Either way, we'll take the compliment. I like that you noticed how civil everyone can be if they make an effort. Refreshing indeed.
Dan Wooldridge October 08, 2011 at 04:59 PM
Barbara: pum·mel (pml) tr.v. pum·meled also pum·melled, pum·mel·ing also pum·mel·ling, pum·mels also pum·mels To beat, as with the fists; pommel: The angry crowd pummeled the thief. See Synonyms at beat. n. The act of beating, as with the fists.
Barbara McMurray October 08, 2011 at 06:53 PM
My bad! I will now mount my pommel horse and ride off into the sunset, tail between my legs, metaphors hopelessly mixed.
Paige Austin April 18, 2012 at 05:36 PM
I saw this WP article and had to bring it back to this thread...you're world view summed up in grammar gripes Are you a prescriptivists or a descriptivist? http://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/aps-approval-of-hopefully-symbolizes-larger-debate-over-language/2012/04/17/gIQAti4zOT_story.html?tid=pm_pop


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