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.
I came up with a new phrase yesterday. Drew asked me the correct punctuation when making a list: comma before the and – the much-debated “Oxford Comma” – to make lions, tigers, and bears; or no comma (lions, tigers and bears). I said that while I preferred a comma there, and many people do, an equal number of people prefer no comma, and neither punctuation option is an “editable offense,” meaning that if I were editing his paper, I wouldn’t mark it. (The preceding run-on sentences, however, are certainly editable offenses, although fairly mild. Perhaps an editable misdemeanor.) Drew said he liked the phrase “editable offense,” and at that moment I felt terribly clever.
Of course, this is the 21st century, and nothing is new under the sun anymore. These days a milisecond’s worth of Googling will confirm whether your feeling of cleverness is well founded or not.
My moment of cleverness is, I feel, still intact, but with a few dents to the armor. The search “editable offense” returned some hits, but only a couple pages worth, hardly signaling the robust preexistence of this phrase. And just about every hit was in regard to messageboard moderation; meaning, is saying such-and-such an offense worthy of the poster being “moderated” (the deceptively polite 21st century version of “censored”). I didn’t find anything relating to proper editing however, so I declare myself the inventor of the phrase “editable offense.”