Thursday, March 01, 2007

A Literal Appeal to English Speakers

From the Desk of the Language Nazi:

I don't claim mastery over the English language, either in its written form, or in diction. But it irritates me when I have to repeatedly encounter misuse of the language by native English speakers. My pet grouse is with the misuse of the word "literally". Virtually every use of this word that I have come across has been incorrect. It kills me a little every time. A like-minded soul even ranted about the abuse of the word "literally" on craigslist.

My fellow English speakers, I urge you to be sparing with your use of the word "literally". For example, you might say:
"News of John's resignation was literally a bolt from the blue to me."
Unless you were actually struck by lightning and burned to a crisp when you heard news of John's resignation, that is incorrect usage. Instead, say:
"News of John's resignation was virtually a bolt from the blue to me."
When in doubt, use the word "virtually" in place of the word "literally". Both words have the same number of syllables; and "virtually" is probably what you should have used in the first place. Other acceptable substitutes: "practically" (more forceful, but to be used with caution), and "really" (much less forceful, but widely applicable).

So, the next time you speak to me, do not misuse the term. Or I will break open your head. Literally.

No comments: