‘Literally’ nothing to do with golf

27/02/2015 at 18:10 2 comments

DATE: Every damn day
VENUE: Everywhere
ACTIVITY: Wanton Disregard For The Actual Meaning Of Words And How One’s Own Language Works
SCORE: Countless

Literally, I am literally fed up with literally the way that the word literally is literally both literally misused and literally overused and abused.

“I’m literally about to walk in to a meeting.” – From a telephone conversation, when the speaker was sitting at his desk.
“The ball is literally on that slope.” – Referring to the location of a golf ball on a green.
“My Dad’s face literally exploded!” – A guest of a radio show, talking about a very spicy hot samosa his – presumably still alive – father had just eaten.

Literally, I’m literally quoting phrases I have literally heard people literally say.

Literally literally isn’t a emphatic word. It literally doesn’t literally mean ‘genuinely’, nor ‘simply’, nor ‘honestly’, nor ‘just’ (as in “It’s just over there”, for example).

I literally concede that literally in some cases what’s literally being preceded with literally the word literally is literally true (the golf ball was on the slope, for instance, and the guy on the phone was going in to a meeting shortly after the phone call was finished), but that literally doesn’t mean it’s literal!

Since it’s enough to say “The ball is just there”, or “I’m about to go to a meeting”, using the word literally adds literally NO value to the remarks.

Literally is literally a word that should literally only really, sorry, literally, no, I mean, really, be used to literally clarify any doubt about something that’s literally about to be said.

Literally, to literally put it another way, it’s literally the opposite of figuratively.

The samosa eating father’s face only figuratively exploded. To say it literally exploded means that it ACTUALLY exploded off the front of his face and splattered all over the room. A particularly gruesome way to die, I think you’ll agree. But as the son of the devourer of the Indian traditional snack was clearly not traumatised by the event it seems unlikely that the cook had managed to produce an incendiary mixture of spices within said picante treat.

Now I know some people will say “But language is organic, and and ever evolving!”. I agree, but I think that’s much more to do with speech, pronunciation, structure, even spelling, not complete misuse and misunderstanding of what a word means and how to use it!

This might be a case in point: Instead of the word misunderstanding I could have used the word ignorance, but I chose not to, because ignorance is often used in a derogative fashion, i.e. as a synonym of stupid. But you try and call someone ignorant to their face and see what happens (DISCLAIMER: Do so at your own risk. Use of the word ignorant is entirely the responsibility of said user. I cannot and will not accept responsibility if you get assaulted – unless I’m the one assaulting you for repeated incorrect usage of the word literally).

“Why does it matter?” some others might say.

Two reasons. Firstly, if the word literally no longer means literally then how are you going to make the point that what you’re about to say or write ISN’T meant figuratively?

Secondly, (and this applies to all those “If you can read this backwards” or “Sawp teh midlde letetrs adn yuo cna stlil raed tihs” memes, which might be interesting, but prove nothing of any significant worth, and certainly don’t justify lack of care) English isn’t just for speaking with other people for whom English is their first language. Language is a set of protocols for communicating. The ‘rules’ matter, not to catch people out, but because they are what make the language work. Foreigners will try to learn the language formally, properly. Misusing words like, but not limited to, literally, will just make it harder to communicate with them.

And this isn’t just sandal wearing lentil eating liberal nonsense kowtowing to “illegal immigrants”, “bloody asylum seekers”, “or NHS/Benefits tourists”. This is just pure pragmatism. Many of these foreigners are business people, or charity workers, government officials, religious representatives, and so on, and many of them aren’t even living on these shores and may not even have been here nor intend to visit!

My theory is that this all rather sadly reflects poorly on our education system, as a result (before teachers start to gang up on me!) of perpetual meddling from “We know best” government ministers…both Tory and Labour. I really don’t see the point in NOT teaching children how to spell correctly, or how to use grammar and punctuation effectively (and therefore to their advantage).

I recall asking our daughter’s primary school teacher why her spelling mistakes hadn’t been corrected. Teacher’s answer was that as it was a creative writing piece it wasn’t appropriate to take marks off for spelling mistakes. I didn’t suggest she loses marks! It’s not always about marks, it’s also about familiarity with how words look when they’re both spelt and used correctly.

There are many other things that bug me about how English is misused. Apostrophes in plurals, of course (because apart from anything else, it’s really not that complicated!), and starting any kind of explanation or request with “Basically…” or “So…”, but this proliferation of literally all over the place, ALL the time, is just SO meaningless, and valueless…and so, well, prolific.

I’m not claiming to be perfect. And I’m not expecting other people to be perfect. I have no doubt that anyone can find mistakes in this post (at least grammatical or punctuation errors, if not spelling). I definitely make no claims to being a quality writer, and I’m most certainly not a professor of the English Language. I just want my fellow English people to care about their own language. For goodness sake, Americans care more about correct English usage than the English do. It’s good that they care, and I like Americans (for one thing they invented developed the greatest sport in the world), but if we care less than any one other peoples in the world then surely it’s the wrong way around!

And by the way, none of this need mean that we’ll all end up speaking with clipped accents like BBC Presenters from the 1950s/60s…just not literally like we’re all literally ignorant (Ouch!)



Entry filed under: Language, Not golf, Rant, Uncategorized. Tags: .

Play The Game Crazy priorities

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. carolehopehoppy  |  27/02/2015 at 19:15

    So, golf got a sneak mention! Guilty as charged, I often start a sentence with “So” on social media! I agree with the thrust of this article. Spelling is important and use of apostrophes is not difficult. I would argue that creative writing has more impact if spelling and grammar is correct. A piece of creative writing should be easy on the eye as well as appeal to the emotions. Literally?!

  • 2. bkuehn1952  |  05/03/2015 at 02:45

    Here in the USA, littering is illegal and subjects one to possible fines and/or imprisonment. If you have a littering problem over on your tiny little island, you best get that under control.

    As to the greatest sport, we Americans did not invent golf but we certainly are best damn players of the game. Just look at the past couple Ryder Cup matches and … errr … umm … never mind.


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