There is a blight upon the lexicon of our time! Read on and I’ll literally tell you what I mean.
Listen, my daughter watches a TON of YouTube. Bad parenting? Probably. Germane to this blopic (blog+ topic)? Only concerning my exposure to what I shall term “secondhand lexico-hyperbolitis”.
This is a debilitating disorder of the speech center of the brain, literally. You may have this disorder if you’re compelled to preface lackluster occurrences with the word “literally”. For example, “the cup I use to scoop out dog food disappeared, I literally had to get another one.”
Another symptom is a lack of proper respect for the hierarchy of “super” adjectives. Submitted for your approval, internet – here’s how I would order superlative adjectives; I’ll use donuts as a reference
|Cinnamon roll||“totally awesome”/ “awesome to the max”|
|Old fashioned||“restaurant quality”|
|Chocolate old fashioned||“epic”|
Of course, the ranking of donuts is open for debate, but I think we can all get behind the classification system. I’d like to note that “epic” is not my choice to describe the very best. I have always liked “restaurant quality”.
No matter what your word for the apex of quality, the notion that something could be so sweet necessarily requires that one be selective when classifying stuff. In other words, if everything is “epic”, is anything truly “epic”?
Let me slow down, my mind is literally flooded with righteous indigtation (indignation + dictation). To be clear, this is a treatise against the hyperbolic terminology literally soiling the garden of agreeable discourse in America today. Even Dictionary.com, the book that literally contains all the words (epic feat, no?) has recognized this egregious trend (LINK).
Is “literally” being used incorrectly? Well, yes and no – dictionary.com lists the following definitions/examples for “literally” –
- in the literal or strict sense: She failed to grasp the metaphor and interpreted the poem literally.
e.g. What does the word mean literally?
- in a literal manner; word for word:
e.g. to translate literally.
- actually; without exaggeration or inaccuracy:
e.g. The city was literally destroyed.
- in effect; in substance; very nearly; virtually:
e.g. I literally died when she walked out on stage in that costume.
It is my understanding that literally is most effectively used when referring to a strange/very rare occurrence. Such as, “Trump literally made a good point”. Another is to show exaggeration. Example, “I literally shat myself when he did the bit about the unicorns with toilet wands for horns.”
I’m seeing and hearing a lot definition #3 mixed with #4; i.e. prosaic occurrences described as if it started raining money.
Here is a test, dear reader, that you might find out if you suffer from this heinous malady. Which of the following statements can “literally” be most appropriately applied to (assume that the occurrence described happened exactly as it is…uhh, described) –
- The bacon was on the skillet so long it got burned
- That lion tore that gazelle’s throat out and ate it.
- Jimi Hendrix makes the guitar sing
- I barfed when I saw the new iPhone
- Not necessary
- Not necessary
- Appropriate to exaggerate Hendrix’s skill (Jimi Hendrix literally makes the guitar sing)
- Appropriate when thinking about an iPhone – new or old. (I literally barfed when I saw the new iPhone).
If you thought it ok to put “literally” on either of the first two, you have a mild case of lexico-hyperbolitis and must memorize and practice using very bland adjectives like – “kinda cool”, “it’s OK”, “Meh” and “not bad” to temper your sensationalist tendencies.
If you think they all could benefit from this most malevolent term, you are (literally) about to drown in a mire of embellishment, a hypoolbole if you will. Your only hope is total sensory deprivation and the prohibition of the use of all adjectives. For instance, let’s say Steven Seagal shows up at your door one morning with some hot flapjacks and says he wants to give you free ass-kicking lessons. Your first reaction might be “THAT’S AWESOME!” If you would purge yourself of lexico-hyperbolitis, your reaction would be pared down to “THAT’S!” or “THAT IS!” if you’re not into the whole brevity thing.
Ok, that’s what I think about the word “literally”, if I hear it again I will have a cowdog (literally).