Thursday, October 8, 2009


Nothing pisses me off more than a stupid idiot. Of course, I should rephrase that--some idiots are just fine, when they don't harm themselves or others. I just don't care for idiots who arent' aware that they're idiots (see, Al Gore, George W Bush, Dan Snyder) or idiots who are actually proud of their idiocy, as though it is some badge of honor (Sarah Palin). And then there are idiots who use the word "literally" wrong.

My theory is that there are a large number of people who use the word "literally" because they aren't aware of the word "figuratively". Such as:

1) "I could literally kill that guy." Really? You're prepared to stalk and kill this person, and most likely hide the body in a hole somewhere (need your "Hole Buddy"!) and concoct an alibi? All because he didnt' serve you a beer fast enough? Psycho!

2) "That is literally the hottest chick on the planet." Really? You've somehow done a survey of the 3 billion women on the planet, and used some generally understood metric to judge "hotness", and found this woman to outshine them all? That's an impressive study, you should publish these findings!

3) "I could literally eat a horse right now." Really? You're prepared to pay some farmer for one of this thoroughbreds, ask him to kill it for you (I'm assuming you don't want the unpleasantness of wielding the axe and the horse screams to haunt your nights), and cook up all its parts, and eat the whole thing? Take some TUMS (R).

4) "That guy is literally retarded." Really? That man who cut you off in traffic is in fact a special needs case, with a sub-level IQ, which probably accounts for his driving erratically and not checking his blind spot? You mean to tell me that the state hands out drivers' licenses to people of such dangerously low intelligence levels that it would jeopardize the very lives of its citizenry? Okay, in this case you're probably right.


  1. Oh, I HATE when people use the word "literally" for emphasis. Makes me nuts.

  2. #2 is a double whammy. Unless her body is like 108 degF, she probably isn't the hottest chick on the planet.

    #4 - I actually am inclined to believe there are many drivers with an IQ less than 50. Not literally, of course, but it sure seems like it sometimes.

  3. Shannon--one of my peeves! Even "totally" is better.

    J--good point re: #2, though I'd accept that they meant "hot" as "good looking". As for #4, on my short drive to work every day I'm positive that they emptied out the asylums.

  4. Almost as bad as "irregardless." It's regardless. Irr-regardless would mean without regard for without regard... or regarding. Literally.

  5. Brett--how about we all start saying "unregardless" and see if it catches on?

  6. Brando, i agree with you on "literally" but check out this recent piece in the 10-4-09 NY Times by a language expert.

    Here's the relevant quote:
    "(And speaking of literally, the next time someone tells you that it cannot be used to mean aught but literal, you might point out that it has been used in various figurative and nonliteral senses for hundreds of years, by such literary figures as Jane Austen, Charles Dickens and Richard Milhous Nixon.)"

    What this douchebag is essentially saying is that if the word has been used incorrectly by famous people or by authors from centuries ago in another country, then you have permission to use it incorrectly today.

  7. Jan--excellent find! I guess that author would argue that "misunderestimate" is now an official word, since George W Bush used it!

  8. Hey now - I think there's something to be said for language changing/evolving with time...

    I'm not sure how I feel about "good" becoming an adverb, though, as I think a dictionary made headlines a little while ago for doing..

  9. J--language does evolve over time, but normally it requires significant changes in general usage and some necessity. But until the changes are made, "irregardless" is still wrong (and inefficient! Adding an extra syllable), as is using "literally" to mean figuratively when "literally" already means something else.

  10. Personal pet peeve: partially/totally destroyed. Destroyed is a state of totality that can neither be partial or total. I wrote this in an article once and my editor figuratively handed me my head.

  11. FoggyDew--good point! One example where usage has changed is "decimate"--originally meant one in ten men executed from a Roman military unit (due to poor performance of the unit) and more recently the term means near destruction of the unit in question (if you say an army regiment was "decimated" in a battle, you usually mean losses much greater than 10%).