Literally the Most Annoying Thing in the World …
It’s time for another of Nathan’s pet hates!
I have a particular dislike for the way most people use the word literally. I literally hate it.
Let’s just have a quick look at what the word means shall we:
Literal: taking words in their usual sense without mysticism or metaphor. The opposite is something that is figurative, which means something is swamped in metaphor and figures of speech.
People often use literally incorrectly, which can be annoying. For example someone might say, “it was so funny I thought my stomach was literally going to explode.” Really? I don’t suppose the funny thing that happened was this particular person eating a bomb?
What is worse, however, is when people use the word when it is obvious they are being literal. For example someone might say “I literally ate six pies.” How is eating six pies anything but literal? How stupid do you think people are that they wouldn’t know you meant this literally?
How often do you hear people overusing the word ‘figuratively’. Do you ever hear someone say “The other day I ate this hot curry and my mouth was figuratively on fire”? You never hear this because if someone said “I ate a curry and my mouth was on fire” we wouldn’t think oh gee, was the curry made of kerosene and did the eater follow it with a lit match? Gee, I wish they’d clarified whether they meant that as a figure of speech or not because now I’m worried about their welfare. No, you wouldn’t say that because people aren’t morons. Generally we know if someone is being literal or figurative.
The best way to use the word literally is in a sentence when you have said something figurative but as you’ve said it, you’ve realised it works in a literal sense as well. So really you’re making a joke of the fact it can be taken either way. For example: A doctor is going into surgery for the first time to do a procedure that involves him breaking and then resetting a leg. He is really nervous so his wife says to him “You’ll be fine darling – break a leg, literally.”
Of course if people stop using the word ‘literally’ cold turkey there may be some initial confusion. Because of this, I am giving you a few tips in case anyone uses any of the following difficult phrases on you:
A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.
I tested this out by going to two shops. In one shop I offered to pay for a DVD with a bird in the hand. At the other shop I tried paying for the same DVD with two birds in the bush (I was willing to throw the bush in as well free of charge). I was thrown out of both shops and so my conclusion is it doesn’t matter whether the bird is in your hand or in the bush, you can’t buy things with birds. This statement is ALWAYS a figure of speech.
I’m going to kill you.
This statement sits in a grey area. It is difficult to know whether someone is a sociopath or not, even family members. For this reason I will bend my rule and people can clarify what they mean when they say this statement by using the word literally or figuratively. If it is the former, run.
Your eyes are bigger than your stomach.
Again this can go either way. The general rule of thumb if someone says this to you is to ask yourself the following helpful question: Am I a bug or something very small with googly eyes? If not it can generally be assumed they are using a figure of speech.
I am sick with envy
If someone says this you can always smell his or her breath as evidence to the literal nature of the claim, so in this case there is no need for the speaker to clarify.
I hope this has come in handy for everyone. Let’s treat each other with respect and only use the word literally when we really must.