literally… not figuratively

This is literally the best blog topic suggestion I’ve ever received…

“I would like you to write about the misuse of the word ‘literal,’ and about how ironic it is that the word literal has lost its literal meaning. It really annoys me when I hear comments on A Current Affair stating that “These are literally the tenants from hell.”” – Joel.

Well Joel I would quite literally love to write about that… and I will… now.

Literally literally means to:

  1. In a literal manner; word for word: translated the Greek passage literally.
  2. In a literal or strict sense: Don’t take my remarks literally.

Incorrect usage of the word really bothers me too. I would suggest that a more appropriate word, in most cases where literally is used out of context is in fact the word literarily.

  1. Of, relating to, or dealing with literature: literary criticism.
  2. Of or relating to writers or the profession of literature: literary circles.
  3. Versed in or fond of literature or learning.
    1. Appropriate to literature rather than everyday speech or writing.
    2. Bookish; pedantic.

If tabloid journalists began using literarily instead of literally it would literally solve half the problem over night.

For example the quote “These are literarily the tenants from hell” – could be acceptable if the show went on to prove that the tenants were of a hellacious nature. For it to be literally true, one or more of the following points must be demonstrably true:
1. The tenant is in fact Satan.
2. The house is in fact hell.
3. The tenant is actually dead, and the report has been beamed back from hell.
4. The house is in Ipswich (replace this suburb with the westernmost suburb in your city – I guess for Townsville readers it’s Charters Towers or somewhere like that).
5. The tenant is demonstrably a demon.
6. The tenant lives in a gambling house
7. The tenant is a scrap of material in a tailor’s box

I agree Joel, Current Affairs programs are literally the worst thing on television. They are literarily a product of hell.

Now on to other pressing issues. I had a thought the other day. Well actually, I had several. This one was to do with the “Drink Drive and you’re a bloody idiot” campaign. It occured to me that there are actually a lot of people in our society who a) are bloody idiots already, b) would like nothing more than to grow up to be a bloody idiot, or c) are not quite bloody idiots but would like to take that next step. It occurs to me that the campaign is flawed on that basis. It occurs to me now that that isn’t as interesting as it seemed in my head when I read it online. Stay tuned for my thoughts on Shakespeare and how lucky he was that his performers didn’t have speech impediments. Try saying Shakespeare with a lisp and it comes out as thakethpeare (and you spit on all the people in the same room as you). But that’s for another post. I may also make some comment about cb’s favourite new word, or new favourite new word. The word is both new, and her new favourite. Allived. To me it sounds a little bit Strongbadian – It’s a great way to transform an adjective to a verb. It’s just a shame alive actually only has one l though really.

The author

Nathan runs St Eutychus. He loves Jesus. His wife. His daughter. His son. His other daughter. His dog. Coffee. And the Internet. He is the campus pastor at Creek Road South Bank, a graduate of Queensland Theological College (M. Div) and the Queensland University of Technology (B. Journ). He spent a significant portion of his pre-ministry-as-a-full-time-job life working in Public Relations, and now loves promoting Jesus in Brisbane and online. He can't believe how great it is that people pay him to talk and think about Jesus.

10 thoughts on “literally… not figuratively”

  1. Misuse of the word ‘literally’ is rampant. You hear people on the radio that have won something say ‘I’ve literally never tried ringing before’ etc. etc. I feel like shouting at them and calling them uneducated dimwits.

  2. Isn’t it funny how when you say a word over and over, like ‘literally’, it literally looses it’s meaning and feels wierd to say? Try it – say ‘Literally’ 20 times in a row… (although, if you’ve got this far you’ve probaby already read nathan’s post)

  3. Andrew,

    I’ve also noticed that when you write a word over and over again is starts to look like you have spelt it wrong.

  4. Ooh ooh ooh!! I want you to talk about the misuse of the word “ironic”.

    No Joel, I’m not saying you misused it- but a majority of the population does!

    Eg. “Isn’t it ironic how both Bill AND Bob bought the same shirt?”

    So many people use “ironic” when they should use “coincidental” or “coincidence”.

    Grrrrrrr, it annoys me.

  5. like most bad preachers, you’ve told me what not to do. But what should I do with the word literally? after reading this post i would struggle to find a legitimate use for the word.

    also, how many time’s does an actor say the word shakespeare in a play by shakespeare?

  6. You know Nathan, you are absolutely right – I’m certain that a large majority of the kids I teach want are bloody idiots, want nothing more than to be bloody idiots (as evidenced by their complete lack of caring when told how they might NOT get into trouble during school) and would love to take the next step in becoming bloody idiots…
    so I agree the campaign is flawed!
    Peta

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