Thursday, August 23, 2012

Literal Grammar Lesson 101

Today, I feel the need to discuss the word 'literal'.  I am afraid that literal literally does not mean what you think it does.  So let's start with the definition:

1. Being in accordance with, conforming to, or upholding the exact or primary meaning of a word or words.
2. Word for word; verbatim: a literal translation.
3. Avoiding exaggeration, metaphor, or embellishment; factual; prosaic: a literal description; a literal mind.
4. Consisting of, using, or expressed by letters: literal notation.
5. Conforming or limited to the simplest, nonfigurative, or most obvious meaning of a word or words.
n. Computer Science
A letter or symbol that stands for itself as opposed to a feature, function, or entity associated with it in a programming language: $ can be a symbol that refers to the end of a line, but as a literal, it is a dollar sign.

Below are some pretty common phrases that have somehow picked up the word literal (ly).

"I literally jumped 20 feet in the air"  - I doubt very highly that you actually jumped 20 feet in the air.  Unless of course you were bouncing on a trampoline.  If that is the case, I am sure that the trampoline is somehow part of the story and you would have mentioned somewhere else in the story that you were on a trampoline.  If that is the case, you may use the word literally.  Otherwise, just say "I jumped 20 feet in the air".  That would be an exaggeration and is fine.

"I literally died" - Wow, you look pretty good telling this story as a corpse!  You did not literally die.  Perhaps it was one of those miracle medical moments where you died and then were brought back to life, but I doubt seeing how fat your ex got made you literally die, and if it did you would not be standing in front of me or posting your ridiculous statement on facebook.  I would be mourning your loss at your funeral.

"I literally jumped right out of my skin" - I think you are getting it right?  Do I really need to explain that you did not literally jump out of your skin?

Thank you for listening, I hope that you will take this knowledge and share it with others.  

This message has been brought to you by MREC, come back next week when we discuss the difference between 'Evan' and 'even'.