I Literally Feel a Rant Coming On


People. Stop using the word “literally” all the time. Just stop. It literally makes me want to hit my head with a brick. If you can’t be trusted to use the word properly then I, as a duly appointed English Major and Protector of the Language, do hereby revoke all privileges to the word.

There is really only one way to use the word, which is in making a verb and its subject less ambiguous. “When I said misuse of the word ‘literally’ makes me want to hit my head with a brick, I meant it literally.” See? Defining the meaning of an uncertain action. I will, on occasion, accept the ironic meaning of the word: “I will literally kill the next person who says ‘literally’ to me.”

But now the word is used to describe actions that are certain, apparently as a form of exaggeration, which makes no sense, since the word itself affirms the action, it doesn’t emphasize or heighten the description. “On my roadtrip I literally drove all the way to California.” Did you in fact drive to California as you stated? You did? Then you don’t need to say “literally.” It means nothing. If you want to put some descriptive muscle in your story, use words that are descriptive and make sense. “I drove to California on my roadtrip, it took 72 hours and I was stuck in a snowstorm in Colorado where I almost died. What an incredible drive.” Or something.

Rant over, Jackson out.

James Wright, “Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota”
John Berryman, #313 of “The Dream Songs”

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