For Your Consideration - Thom Barker

For Your Consideration - Thom Barker

Giving up is so much easier now that literally means figuratively

Thom literally draws a line in the sand, but not on the figurative use of literally

I have literally given up.

Around 10 years ago, it appeared lexicographers did too when they added a definition to their dictionaries for the word literally that literally means the opposite of the word’s literal definition.

Literalists still bristle when people abuse the word by saying things such as “my head literally exploded,” which can’t possibly be true.

Of course, in speech, it’s easy to tell when someone is using literally figuratively rather than literally, so it is literally not a problem in terms of communication.

The figurative use of literally used to really bother me, but I am literally over it.

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As Mirriam-Webster explained in 2013, when it was literally lambasted by literalists for adding the figurative definition: “There is no plot by dictionary-makers to destroy our language. There is not even a plot to loosen our language’s morals and corrupt it a bit. There is, however, a strong impulse among lexicographers to catalog the language as it is used, and there is a considerable body of evidence indicating that literally has been used in this fashion for a very long time.

So very long, indeed, that Oxford, the granddaddy, and some would argue literally the definitive, English dictionary, acknowledged the figurative sense of literally in its 1769 edition. That’s literally hundreds of years ago.

Today, literally every modern English dictionary now includes the figurative sense of the word.

Mirriam-Webster users had fun with the change, posting comments such as, “the dictionary is literally wrong”, “this is literally the stupidest thing I’ve ever read’ and ‘I am figuratively about to hurl.’

Those who use literally as emphasis rather than to indicate something is true and actual are in very good company. Among the great authors who have gone down that literal path are Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, Jane Austin, William Thackery and David Foster Wallace have literally succumbed to the figurative allure.

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English changes so fluidly and frequently it’s hard to keep up with what is acceptable and not, so it is tempting to draw a personal line in the sand.

A word that means one thing and its opposite might seem like a good candidate for the figurative straw that broke the camel’s back, but English is literally chock full of such words. In fact, there is a word for them: contronym (aka Janus words, antagonyms, or auto-antonyms).

It’s easier to just accept the fact we speak an illogical language.

That being said, my personal back-breaking straw remains the verb comprise. Lexicographers held out for a long time 0n this one, but finally accepted the awkward and incorrect construction ‘is comprised of.’ Comprise literally means ‘is made up of’ or “consists of’ so saying ‘is comprised of’ is redundant, like saying ‘is is made up of of’.

Something comprises other things. Period. So simple. That’s my line and I am literally sticking to it.



editor@interior-news.com

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