0725: "Literally"

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Laos
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0725: "Literally"

Postby Laos » Fri Apr 09, 2010 4:01 am UTC

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http://www.xkcd.com/725/

Title text: "The chemistry experiment had me figuratively -- and then shortly thereafter literally -- glued to my seat."

Witty.

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Litof
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Re: " Literally " Discussion

Postby Litof » Fri Apr 09, 2010 4:03 am UTC

Does it strike anyone else as odd that he only screwed up once in eighteen years? :P
Last edited by Litof on Fri Apr 09, 2010 4:03 am UTC, edited 1 time in total.

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FCN
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Re: " Literally " Discussion

Postby FCN » Fri Apr 09, 2010 4:03 am UTC

This comic was a veritable waterfall of laughs.
Spoiler:
LuNatic wrote:
Dear FCN,
You are:
a) Terrible, but in an awesome way.
or
b) Awesome, but in a terrible way.
I'm having difficulty deciding which.

natey
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Re: " Literally " Discussion

Postby natey » Fri Apr 09, 2010 4:07 am UTC

I correct people on this all the time... and I frequently use the expression "figuratively" where people would use literally.

And sometimes I use figuratively wrong, just to screw with people. Figuratively, of course
Last edited by natey on Fri Apr 09, 2010 4:33 am UTC, edited 1 time in total.

kobayashimaru3
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Re: " Literally " Discussion

Postby kobayashimaru3 » Fri Apr 09, 2010 4:09 am UTC

Great, now I'm going to be hesitating every time I'm about to use the word "literally."

chocolate.razorblades
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Re: " Literally " Discussion

Postby chocolate.razorblades » Fri Apr 09, 2010 4:14 am UTC

Haha I think it's funny when people say "literally" when they don't mean it. It makes the world CRAZY.

This whole comic is hilarious. I literally lmao. :O

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Felona
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Re: " Literally " Discussion

Postby Felona » Fri Apr 09, 2010 4:15 am UTC

People who use the word "literally" when thy clearly don't mean "literally" deserve to be accosted by crazy men for every transgression.

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Re: " Literally " Discussion

Postby SorryBoringNickName » Fri Apr 09, 2010 4:17 am UTC

kobayashimaru3 wrote:Great, now I'm going to be hesitating every time I'm about to use the word "literally."


Are you going to hesitate... literally or figuratively?
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Shmuel
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Re: " Literally " Discussion

Postby Shmuel » Fri Apr 09, 2010 4:18 am UTC

The sad thing is, the antagonist here has been driven crazy on false grounds. Contrary to popular misconception, "literally" can also be used as a hyperbolic intensifier, and has been so used for centuries by writers of excellent repute.

sonicspike41
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Re: " Literally " Discussion

Postby sonicspike41 » Fri Apr 09, 2010 4:19 am UTC

I use literally in such situations quite often. However I believe I use it as a sort of hyperbole or obvious over exaggeration. Many times it's implied that what I'm stating can't, or wouldn't, literally happen, but using the term makes things seem more exciting. I just think it makes for better story telling.

"There I was, facing about 30 poorly armed soldiers giving them the last speech of their life. Some of them were figuratively glued to my every word, holding onto it like a cherished keepsake given by a loved one. This was it. This is figuratively what I have been spending my whole life waiting for."

Compared to:

"Some of them were literally glued to my every word... This is literally what I have been spending my whole life waiting for."

It's probably not the proper use of the term, but not all great stories were built with proper grammar, so I'm okay with it.

Kayangelus
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Re: " Literally " Discussion

Postby Kayangelus » Fri Apr 09, 2010 4:22 am UTC

kobayashimaru3 wrote:Great, now I'm going to be hesitating every time I'm about to use the word "literally."


Just use figuraliterally.

Or figuratively literally.

therocket
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Re: " Literally " Discussion

Postby therocket » Fri Apr 09, 2010 4:27 am UTC

I figuratively laughed.

Literally.

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Re: " Literally " Discussion

Postby eviloatmeal » Fri Apr 09, 2010 4:27 am UTC

I was literally typing a reply to this thread!!

And now you're literally reading this in the voice of Morgan Freeman.

Yes. The soothing, soothing voice of Morgan Freeman.

A bucket... of ducks and rabbits.
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Re: " Literally " Discussion

Postby memcginn » Fri Apr 09, 2010 4:28 am UTC

Good comic for a Friday. We have literally all weekend to enjoy this one.
while (!spoon) {
fork();
}

SocialSceneRepairman
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Re: " Literally " Discussion

Postby SocialSceneRepairman » Fri Apr 09, 2010 4:31 am UTC

I'm literally disappointed in literally relatively-non-crazy guy. Literally seriously, it's literally not very hard.

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Meng Bomin
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Re: " Literally " Discussion

Postby Meng Bomin » Fri Apr 09, 2010 4:36 am UTC

I'm not sure I agree with the notion that literally should not be used in this context. Usually its used as an intensifier through the fine (okay, really quite coarse) art of hyperbole. If you say, "I was figuratively glued to my seat", you'll notice that figuratively doesn't add any value to the statement. Most native English speakers are well aware that "I was glued to my seat" is a common saying that is meant figuratively. "I was literally glued to my seat" is making a stronger statement, which is from a meta perspective is a ironic, since the figurative nature of the sentence is still assumed. If you want to indicate that you are making a literal statement, you usually have to explain yourself a bit (as Randall did in the alt text).

So, here's an ordering of statements from lowest to highest intensity:
"I was figuratively glued to my seat" <-adds unnecessary modifier (redundant to both speaker and listener's understanding of the conversation), distracting from the meaning of the sentence
"I was glued to my seat" <-core statement
"I was literally glued to my seat" <-modifier used to intensify the meaning of the sentence through hyperbole

Now, if you want to question the taste of using "literally" as a modifier, be my guest, but don't assume that "figuratively" is a correct replacement for "literally in these instances.

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Omegaton
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Re: " Literally " Discussion

Postby Omegaton » Fri Apr 09, 2010 4:43 am UTC

Love the new angle on the use of "literally"! Great comic today!

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Beaniedude
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Re: " Literally " Discussion

Postby Beaniedude » Fri Apr 09, 2010 4:46 am UTC

I don't know why but people using the word literally as hyperbole gets up my goat (figuratively).
Why not just forgot about the word and do without it.
My head, literally exploded.
As opposed to, My head exploded. In my view is less effective as one has to pause instead of free flowing with the sentence.
But each to their own I guess.
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Re: " Literally " Discussion

Postby Nihiltres » Fri Apr 09, 2010 4:52 am UTC

Shmuel wrote:The sad thing is, the antagonist here has been driven crazy on false grounds. Contrary to popular misconception, "literally" can also be used as a hyperbolic intensifier, and has been so used for centuries by writers of excellent repute.


+1. There's a point at which strict grammar becomes less of a concern, and that's somewhere after the point at which you can be easily and (mostly-) unambiguously understood. I usually respect the semantic difference in this case, but there are enough dumb-ass people who don't to make it not matter in practice. Furthermore, in a few cases strict adherence to technical perfection in grammar can make you less understandable, or your prose/dialogue less fluid—and that is clearly undesirable.

On another note:
Spoiler:
For some surreal fun, mentally insert a hyphen to all instances of "literally" on this page to re-parse it as "lite-rally". Think Lite-Brite.

tellumo
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Re: " Literally " Discussion

Postby tellumo » Fri Apr 09, 2010 5:13 am UTC

Given the soda-drinking habits of some of the theater patrons whose seats I've inherited, I'm not convinced that "literally" wasn't the proper word in the first panel.

edbdqt
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Re: " Literally " Discussion

Postby edbdqt » Fri Apr 09, 2010 5:20 am UTC

tellumo wrote:Given the soda-drinking habits of some of the theater patrons whose seats I've inherited, I'm not convinced that "literally" wasn't the proper word in the first panel.


Given you assume it's soda, I conclude you weren't sitting in the back row.

My only question is the guy says the last use of literally was also wrong. And it would seem he means to imply they should have used "figuratively". But how can you be "figuratively the craziest person I have ever met?"

izomiac
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Re: " Literally " Discussion

Postby izomiac » Fri Apr 09, 2010 5:30 am UTC

People using words in direct opposition to their meaning is my pet peeve. Making a joke is fine, but it irritates me when someone so obviously doesn't even know what it is that they're saying. Grammar and definitions evolve, but "literally" lacks an exact synonym. Each misuse dilutes the meaning, thereby slightly reducing the gamut of thoughts that can be expressed concisely in the English language.

Plus, do people not see the trend? English has several meaningless intensifiers, like "very", "veritable", "really", "real", "truly", "honestly", "actual", and probably half a dozen others that I'm forgetting. It's not difficult to guess what they meant before they lost their meaning... It's the linguistic version of an evolutionary arms race, and the unwitting idiots are winning!

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StClair
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Re: " Literally " Discussion

Postby StClair » Fri Apr 09, 2010 5:39 am UTC

The trend I observe is that people try to claim things are true (very, verifiably and verily from "veritas", etc) that aren't.
"No, really, this is true, I mean it."

So the problem is that people lie. A lot.

paste
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Re: " Literally " Discussion

Postby paste » Fri Apr 09, 2010 5:56 am UTC

Definition two proves Merriam-Webster is actively attempting to destroy the English language. Also, from definition two of "octopus," Random House effectively destroyed all metaphor in English forever.

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Re: " Literally " Discussion

Postby phillipsjk » Fri Apr 09, 2010 6:08 am UTC

paste++

You are normally supposed to make 5 posts before publishing links, but they make your argument so convincing :)
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WarPig
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Re: " Literally " Discussion

Postby WarPig » Fri Apr 09, 2010 6:10 am UTC

Funny, but most of my chemistry experiments end with an explosion of varying intensity. Quite fun, really.

sillydreamer
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Re: " Literally " Discussion

Postby sillydreamer » Fri Apr 09, 2010 6:14 am UTC

edbdqt wrote:My only question is the guy says the last use of literally was also wrong. And it would seem he means to imply they should have used "figuratively". But how can you be "figuratively the craziest person I have ever met?"


"Craziest" is an absolute. There is only one person who is the "craziest" of all the people. For the guy to literally be the craziest, he would have to be more insane than every other person the other guy had ever met, which the first guy thinks is incorrect and, thus, must actually be a "figurative" statement.

As for the comic, I enjoyed this one. As a middle school math teacher in NYC, I appreciate good grammar, even though my students seem to think they don't need to use it in my class because it's not the subject I teach. I have misused "literally" and have taken to not using it at all, instead emphasizing the word "literally" would modify (e.g., "I was glued to my seat). It seems to have about the same effect and no one interrupts an anecdote to correct my grammar.

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Re: " Literally " Discussion

Postby sourmìlk » Fri Apr 09, 2010 6:15 am UTC

I liked what another person said: while precedent has declared that it is sometimes appropriate to use "literally" as an intensifier, it's not the best option.

Also: just because "figuratively" isn't a great replacement for "literally" doesn't mean "literally" can be used as an intensifier.

For example:
"I was figuratively glued to my seat" <- unnecessary modifier unless you are Spock
"I was glued to my seat" <- core statement, though maybe not intense
"I was literally glued to my seat" <- implies physical, stick glue
"I was glued to my seat through the entire fucking movie." <- has an intensifier, does not imply physical sticky glue

and so the f-bomb comes to the rescue yet again\

EDIT: Also, I've been encountering this a lot. Randal, I don't know what you're doing in my head, but GTFO. Tits is not an option.
EDIT v2 - Revenge of the Grammar Nazis: Speelin'
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Re: " Literally " Discussion

Postby pensive bosom » Fri Apr 09, 2010 6:29 am UTC

Maybe the reason "literally" used as an intensifier is so irksome is that although this use is standard, the fact that it's become standard, and that it's no longer ironic or humourous, could only have come about through our, or someone's, having become insensitive to the irony in using it that way. It's similar to how even though it's petty and fruitless to complain about the standard journalistic use of "begging the question", that use is still irksome since it could only have come about through incomprehension of the correct academic use, so that the journalistic use, however correct now, is a lasting monument to human stupidity.

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Re: " Literally " Discussion

Postby sourmìlk » Fri Apr 09, 2010 6:31 am UTC

pensive bosom wrote:Maybe the reason "literally" used as an intensifier is so irksome is that although this use is standard, the fact that it's become standard, and that it's no longer ironic or figurative, could only have come about through our, or someone's, having become insensitive to the irony in using it that way. It's similar to how even though it's petty and fruitless to complain about the standard journalistic use of "begging the question", that use is still irksome since it could only have come about through incomprehension of the correct academic use, so that the journalistic use, however correct, is a lasting monument to human stupidity.


This.

Well, almost this.

I don't give a crap what's popular, if somebody's created a meaning out of a misunderstanding, no matter how many people subscribe to that misunderstanding, they are still wrong. I don't care if everybody starts saying Hydrogen has two protons, they're not right. I know language is a more flexible matter, but still, the principle applies
Terry Pratchett wrote:The trouble with having an open mind, of course, is that people will insist on coming along and trying to put things in it.

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Re: " Literally " Discussion

Postby edbdqt » Fri Apr 09, 2010 6:49 am UTC

sillydreamer wrote:
edbdqt wrote:My only question is the guy says the last use of literally was also wrong. And it would seem he means to imply they should have used "figuratively". But how can you be "figuratively the craziest person I have ever met?"


"Craziest" is an absolute. There is only one person who is the "craziest" of all the people. For the guy to literally be the craziest, he would have to be more insane than every other person the other guy had ever met, which the first guy thinks is incorrect and, thus, must actually be a "figurative" statement.

I agree with the first part about "Craziest" and "literally" but not the second part about "figuratively". My understanding is "figuratively" implies you are using a phrase in a non-literal way such as metaphor. Using figuratively to say "Glued to my seat" really means "paying close intense attention" is a good example. In the last panel, "figuratively" could not work in that manner - there is no non-literal way, to my knowledge, to translate "craziest person I have ever met".

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Re: " Literally " Discussion

Postby BeskarKomrk » Fri Apr 09, 2010 6:55 am UTC

If this had been posted about a month ago, it would have been a "get out of my head" moment. I was doing an English project on One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, and, as part of the project, we had to make a culture tree for Russia. A friend and I figured out that the idea of a culture tree was a metaphor for the actual culture, but we weren't sure whether the metaphor was literally supposed to include a drawing of a tree, or just the general idea of roots and branches in terms of cause and effect. Therefore we decided that it was either a literal metaphorical tree, or a literal literal tree. In addition to that, it was about a novel, making it a literary literal metaphorical tree. The project sucked besides that.

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Re: " Literally " Discussion

Postby Arancaytar » Fri Apr 09, 2010 6:59 am UTC

Ouch. If I'd consistently pointed this out in high school, I would probably have literally lost my pants and been literally stuffed in a locker.
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Re: " Literally " Discussion

Postby Kaijyuu » Fri Apr 09, 2010 7:00 am UTC

Yeah the misuse of "literally" is definitely one of my pet peeves. Call it an intensifier if you want, it still makes your statement ridiculous, and I reserve the right to laugh and/or rage at you.
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Re: " Literally " Discussion

Postby The Free Man » Fri Apr 09, 2010 7:15 am UTC

The stick figure figuratively did something?

Oh boy.

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Re: " Literally " Discussion

Postby bitwiseshiftleft » Fri Apr 09, 2010 7:39 am UTC

... unlike the SS Grandcamp, which littorally exploded.

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Re: " Literally " Discussion

Postby Matthias » Fri Apr 09, 2010 8:04 am UTC

sourmìlk wrote:I don't give a crap what's popular, if somebody's created a meaning out of a misunderstanding, no matter how many people subscribe to that misunderstanding, they are still wrong. I don't care if everybody starts saying Hydrogen has two protons, they're not right. I know language is a more flexible matter, but still, the principle applies
Well... no, it doesn't. It really, really doesn't.

Hydrogen having one proton is a law of physics. It's immutably, undeniably true--well, unless language evolved over time such that, say, Helium was called Hydrogen and Hydrogen was called Oggie-Boogium or something, but that's not the issue raised. The point is that the number of protons is factual and concrete, not abstract.

A lot of people make this mistake, and it irks me--that is, they hold the erroneous belief that grammar and language have rules that exist independent of the speakers of that language. If a significant number of speakers use a word a certain way, or "disobey" a certain rule, it's not a mistake or a misunderstanding, as there's nothing concrete and immutable to misunderstand--it's the language.

Aaand.... what the hell, have a straw-man on me: "We are speaking Anglo-Saxon very, very poorly."

So speaks The Robot. ^^
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Re: " Literally " Discussion

Postby markfiend » Fri Apr 09, 2010 8:10 am UTC

So.

Is this comic a skit on people who (mis)use the word "literally"? Or a skit on people who complain about people who (mis)use the word "literally"?

It literally works on many levels.
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Re: " Literally " Discussion

Postby littlelj » Fri Apr 09, 2010 8:13 am UTC

Matthias wrote:A lot of people make this mistake, and it irks me--that is, they hold the erroneous belief that grammar and language have rules that exist independent of the speakers of that language. If a significant number of speakers use a word a certain way, or "disobey" a certain rule, it's not a mistake or a misunderstanding, as there's nothing concrete and immutable to misunderstand--it's the language.

Aaand.... what the hell, have a straw-man on me: "We are speaking Anglo-Saxon very, very poorly."


Well quite.

Doesn't mean I didn't chortle at the comic. I found that it was making fun of the obsessive nature of pedantry, not the mistake itself.

Nearly put "per se" instead of "itself" but am so tired of people spelling it "per say" and without italics that I couldn't bear to. Irony?
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Re: " Literally " Discussion

Postby You, sir, name? » Fri Apr 09, 2010 8:14 am UTC

Irregardless, it literally makes me explode with glee to think how many people will struggle to resist correcting this post. Like, how many will it be too much for?
I edit my posts a lot and sometimes the words wrong order words appear in sentences get messed up.


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