I never was an English major. I never even liked taking English classes in school and I was foolish enough in my youth to question the importance of learning about how to write and speak in a proper and grammatically correct manner. I have a lot more respect for that discipline today but I am certainly no “Grammar Nazi” and I am sure any competent English teacher or otherwise knowledgeable individual will find plenty of mistakes I have made with just about everything I write here.
Yes, I do make plenty of mistakes while writing but I think what I write is reasonably clear and will accomplish what I set out to do. I’ll certainly continue to make mistakes but let me tell you the kinds of mistakes I will not make here and do not make when I speak. I will not deliberately and completely misuse a commonly known and often-used English word. For example, if I am writing a story about a dog, I will not refer to it as a “cat.” That’s what you would reasonably expect, is it not? Believe it or not, it has become incredibly popular lately to completely misuse a particular word and it has been bugging the hell out of me.
The word in question is “literally.” I have to question whether the growing number of people misusing the word actually know they are misusing it or if they are just trying to add a bit of drama to whatever it is they happen to be blathering about. Like we really need more drama these days, but I digress.
I have not attempted to count the times I have heard the word “literally” misused in recent years, though I kind of wish I had. I hear it in person and I hear it in the media constantly. Do these people not know that the word “literally” means, in simple terms, “for real” or “something that really happened?” For example, you would never say, “I literally died,” because if you did, you wouldn’t be saying anything. Either that or you were somehow revived after death by someone giving you CPR or using a defibrillator. You also would never say something like, “I literally froze my ass off,” because that’s just not possible. Your ass simply cannot become detached from the rest of your body as a result of being subjected to cold, even if you were standing on Neptune, where it is believed to be around –350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Let me make this simple for any uninformed individuals that may not have the benefit of this knowledge. When you use the word “literally” you are saying that something really, actually, for real happened. You could say that you literally had oatmeal for breakfast, as long as you actually did. You could also say you literally had a heart attack, as long as you actually, in real life, actually had a heart attack. Many people survive heart attacks. so that statement is plausible.
You would not say something like, “I literally jumped out of my skin!” because nobody can do that and nobody ever did. Using the word “literally” is intended to reference an actual event. It necessarily has to be factual. It is that simple.
So to all those people out there who are misusing the word “literally,” I beg you to stop. If I hear it one more time I fear that my head will explode. No, not literally.