0725: "Literally"

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Tei
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Re: " Literally " Discussion

Postby Tei » Fri Apr 09, 2010 8:19 am UTC

Image

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

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

.....

Yea, but what OVEREXTENDED METAPHOR PARROT (today SMBC omic) think about today KXCD comic?

http://www.smbc-comics.com/index.php?db ... 1846#comic

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NorthLondon
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Re: " Literally " Discussion

Postby NorthLondon » Fri Apr 09, 2010 8:45 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.


Well, I agree in the case of the English language, but some others do have externally determined rules. See, for example, the list set out by our good friends at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_la ... regulators

Aside from the correctness, or otherwise, of the grammatical intervention, it's also just plain rude to interrupt a conversation to pick-up on a counterpart's mistake. What do you gain, other than irking your friend?

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Re: " Literally " Discussion

Postby rpgamer » Fri Apr 09, 2010 8:49 am UTC

So, it seems like I'm in the minority of not really finding this comic amusing. I mean, hell, didn't SNL and/or Mad TV have skits like this? I seem to recall one had a couple of individuals that would drop "literally" into every sentence a time or two. It was probably the other one that had the "Literal" family that took every phrase at face value. Or maybe that one was in one of the Nick skit shows.

Not saying this is what makes the comic less funny. Just that Randal could have taken it in a different direction. Such as having crazy guy blow the man's head off after saying his head literally exploded. Correcting grammar in a different fashion.
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Re: " Literally " Discussion

Postby '; DROP DATABASE;-- » Fri Apr 09, 2010 9:04 am UTC

Litof wrote:Does it strike anyone else as odd that he only screwed up once in eighteen years? :P
It's not hard to get right. I don't think I've ever made that mistake, and it literally makes my blood boil when people do!



(Kidding. :P)
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Re: " Literally " Discussion

Postby maushu » Fri Apr 09, 2010 9:28 am UTC

Well, at least now I know why there this bearded person following me. :?
You just wasted some seconds trying to see what this phrase said. You probably have too much free time on your hands.

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Re: " Literally " Discussion

Postby floreal » Fri Apr 09, 2010 9:39 am UTC

Beaniedude wrote: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.

people who complain about other peoples use of words while making grammar mistakes really wind me up :wink:

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SEE
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Re: " Literally " Discussion

Postby SEE » Fri Apr 09, 2010 9:41 am UTC

Linguists commenting on the use of language are precisely as useful as nuclear physicists consulting on the use of nuclear weapons. That is, their expertise can inform us as to the facts, but the facts are not themselves value judgments, and their factual expertise does not entitle them to make the value judgments for all of us. Linguists can tell us what English is, but not what it should be. It is clear every use of "literally" as an intensifier makes it harder to effectively and concisely communicate that, for example, there indeed was actual glue on your seat. Accordingly, the figurative usage should be denounced, derided, and ostracized.

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Re: " Literally " Discussion

Postby Felstaff » Fri Apr 09, 2010 10:03 am UTC

Away, you scullion! you rampallion! You fustilarian! I'll tickle your catastrophe.

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Re: " Literally " Discussion

Postby Aris Katsaris » Fri Apr 09, 2010 10:12 am UTC

sonicspike41 wrote: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.


You're making the wrong comparison - the point isn't to use the word "figuratively" instead of "literally". The point is to omit the obnoxious "literally" modifier altogether.

In your example, both versions are vastly inferior to the version that'd omit the modifier:
"Some of them were glued to my every word, holding onto it like a cherished keepsake given by a loved one. This was it. This is what I have been spending my whole life waiting for."

The use of "literally" is nothing but a weak and lame modification, similar to how you might use the word ", seriously, " or ", like, ". A verbal tic, unworthy of inclusion in serious prose, unless you're attempting to make a point about the thought processes of your point-of-view character. Something like the following:

"Some of them were, like, glued to my every word, holding onto it like a cherished keepsake given by a loved one. This was it. This is, seriously, what I have been spending my whole life, like, waiting for."

Your usage of literally unintentionally indicates something of your point-of-view character, same as my usage of "seriously" intentionally indicates something different of mine. His speech/thought patterns for one thing.

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Re: " Literally " Discussion

Postby Dataflashsabot » Fri Apr 09, 2010 10:27 am UTC

Get out of my head, Randall! I was moaning at my sister for doing this just last night.

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Re: " Literally " Discussion

Postby Alphaniner » Fri Apr 09, 2010 10:55 am UTC

I haven't been too impressed with the comics of late, but I just had to comment because this one rung true with me. Randall gets in my head yet again.

This kind of stuff literally pisses me off more than anything else in the entire world. Ever. (See what I did? I'm funny, right, guys? Guys?)

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Re: " Literally " Discussion

Postby Capt. Jon » Fri Apr 09, 2010 11:26 am UTC

Forget Merriam-Webster and their Americanish dictionary, what does Fowler's and the OED say?

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Re: "Literally" Discussion

Postby Speicus » Fri Apr 09, 2010 11:58 am UTC

It reminds me of the "literal Colemanballs" section of Private Eye a looooong time ago, where sports reporters said many such thinks, like "literally with one foot in the grave!"

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Re: " Literally " Discussion

Postby Naleh » Fri Apr 09, 2010 12:00 pm UTC

SEE wrote:It is clear every use of "literally" as an intensifier makes it harder to effectively and concisely communicate that, for example, there indeed was actual glue on your seat. Accordingly, the figurative usage should be denounced, derided, and ostracized.

This is what I think, too.

We've already lost "really", "actually", "honestly", and all the others to hyperbole. We need some way to communicate a literal situation!

It would seem I'm the crazy bearded person. ...Figuratively.

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Re: "Literally" Discussion

Postby OldMarc » Fri Apr 09, 2010 12:20 pm UTC

Am I the only one who was reminded of 'Like a Rolling Stone' when the crazy guy says 'How does it FEEL?' The literally/figuratively part didn't really work for me.

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Re: "Literally" Discussion

Postby entropic » Fri Apr 09, 2010 12:28 pm UTC

This reminds me of the "refute/refute" debate; technically "refute" means "show to be false", ordinary folk, and especially politicians, are notorious for "refuting accusations" where it means "to deny". The unfortunate truth of the matter is that how people use words plays a larger role in determining their meaning than does a stipulated definition.
Last edited by entropic on Fri Apr 09, 2010 12:40 pm UTC, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: "Literally" Discussion

Postby Pappy Hants » Fri Apr 09, 2010 12:30 pm UTC

Am I the only one who read this article? To wit, "In the case of literally, the 'right' meaning is said to be 'exactly as described; in a literal way,' because that's what the base word literal is supposed to mean. In fact, the literal meaning of literal would be something like 'according to the letter,' but it's almost never used this way. 'He copied the manuscript literally' would be one possible example. So when we use literally to refer to something other than individual letters—to whole words, or to thoughts in general—we are already walking down the figurative path, and if we end up with people eating curry so hot that their mouths are 'literally on fire,' how surprised can we be?" (emphasis added)

He goes on to give examples from Louisa May Alcott, and "to [his] earlier examples could be added choice quotations from James Fenimore Cooper, Thackeray, Dickens, and Thoreau, among many others—no one seems to have objected to the usage until the early 20th century." He traces earliest use to the late 1700s. I don't understand the argument that every use of literally in its over-200-year-old "new" sense obscures its meaning and makes it harder to communicate when you want to use it the "right" way. How many times has the meaning of a statement been obscured, in all of your experiences, because of fuzzy meaning around literally? (I can literally think of perhaps 2 occasions in my 31 years.) And how likely are we to turn around a 200 year old trend used by Thackeray, Dickens, and Twain? Tilt at some other windmills, folks -- unless you're planning on using it only for its LITERAL meaning--when you are copying something word for word, or perhaps ""translating something literally from Greek". Any other meaning is already figurative.

The worse, most pet-peevish part of this to me is the know-it-alls who have this as a pet peeve, based not, for example, on Websters' or OED definitions, or research, but simply their own deeply-held feeling that it's wrong. Sorry, no matter how hard you feel that it's wrong and a corruption, you obviously can't be thinking of the good old days when it was used only in the manner you prefer, unless you are over 200 (but less than 1000) years old. You're literally being annoyed at people for a made-up rule that wasn't even true of usage during your parents parents' lifetime.

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Re: "Literally" Discussion

Postby Ezzthetic » Fri Apr 09, 2010 12:35 pm UTC

I have a different problem.

I tend to assume people are speaking figuratively when they are speaking literally.

On the other hand, people tend to assume I'm speaking literally when I am speaking figuratively.

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Re: "Literally" Discussion

Postby Ezzthetic » Fri Apr 09, 2010 12:39 pm UTC

entropic wrote:This reminds me of the "refute/refute" debate; technically "refute" means "show to be false", ordinary folk, and especially politicians, are notorious for "refuting accusations" where it means "to deny".


True. They should say "rebut", not "refute". They countered the accusation. Whether or not they refuted it remains to be demonstrated.

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Re: "Literally" Discussion

Postby haxax » Fri Apr 09, 2010 12:47 pm UTC

Doesn't it strike anyone that about twenty Dinosaur Comics already discussed the linguistical issue of literally/figuratively? :S

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Re: "Literally" Discussion

Postby Pappy Hants » Fri Apr 09, 2010 12:49 pm UTC

"We've already lost "really", "actually", "honestly", and all the others to hyperbole. We need some way to communicate a literal situation!"

No, we haven't. I can easily communicate a literal or figurative meaning given the context of a sentence, spoken or written. The best example is perhaps the infamous JL Austin/Sidney Morgenbesser exchange, "During a lecture the Oxford linguistic philosopher J. L. Austin made the claim that although a double negative in English implies a positive meaning, there is no language in which a double positive implies a negative. To which Morgenbesser responded in a dismissive tone, "Yeah, yeah." (Some have it quoted as "Yeah, right.")"

The idea that language would be like a string of elements evaluable with formal logic and lacking all context if people used it "right" is farcical; the idea that using language in ways not in keeping with peevologists' preferences leads to an obscuring or coarsening of the language where it's harder to communicate is simply undemonstrated, if not entirely unfounded--context, phrasing and more all give huge amounts of information that are useful and necessary to evaluating anything but the most logically formal statements. We don't need set in stone, unambiguous, 300-year-old meanings of words to be clear.

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Re: "Literally" Discussion

Postby BioTube » Fri Apr 09, 2010 1:13 pm UTC

The idea of the proper spelling is a new one as well - it seems that people have decided that prescriptivism is part of being civilized. As for double negation, I've yet to see any evidence of it actually being used to form a positive - Wikipedia give the example of "I don't disagree", but completely ignores the fact that 'dis-' isn't grammatically a negation.
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Re: "Literally" Discussion

Postby Shadowman615 » Fri Apr 09, 2010 1:20 pm UTC

I literally thought that was funny. Or should that be "figuratively?" hmmm....

:twisted:

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Re: "Literally" Discussion

Postby DavidRoss » Fri Apr 09, 2010 1:26 pm UTC

I have a little trouble with recognizing the different characters in some XKCD comics - to me they literally (OK, that adjective wasn't truly necesssary) look the same sometimes. In the third panel, the figure with the hair is the seventh-grade embarrasser, whereas in the other panels, the sole hair-bearer is the seventh-grade embarrassee (and the present day embarrasser).

Sooo, what I conclude is that being embarrassed in junior high school will keep your hairline from receding, whereas being annoying will cause you to go bald.

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Re: " Literally " Discussion

Postby Jamaican Castle » Fri Apr 09, 2010 1:30 pm UTC

rpgamer wrote:So, it seems like I'm in the minority of not really finding this comic amusing. I mean, hell, didn't SNL and/or Mad TV have skits like this? I seem to recall one had a couple of individuals that would drop "literally" into every sentence a time or two. It was probably the other one that had the "Literal" family that took every phrase at face value. Or maybe that one was in one of the Nick skit shows.


As I recall, it was an Amanda Show skit, which was in fact on Nick. Kind of terrible, too, now that I think about it.

Anyway, on topic, what bugs me about "misusing" literally isn't that the usage is changing - that's fine - but that there isn't something else to put in its place for when you, well, literally mean it.

Also, I find Randall's chemistry experiments alarming. Something tells me anything that glues you to a chair violates all kinds of lab safety rules.

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Re: "Literally" Discussion

Postby bzakharin » Fri Apr 09, 2010 1:43 pm UTC

How would one use literally "correctly"? I can't seem to think of any example where such usage would not be misunderstood as an intensifier. I'm literally with the crazy guy in the last panel when he misunderstands. You know, I was there. Standing next to him when he said it.

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Re: "Literally" Discussion

Postby Story » Fri Apr 09, 2010 1:48 pm UTC

Am I the only one who was expecting Black Hat Guy after reading the first panel?

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Re: " Literally " Discussion

Postby jqavins » Fri Apr 09, 2010 1:54 pm UTC

Litof wrote:Does it strike anyone else as odd that he only screwed up once in eighteen years? :P

Yes, a little. Zero would not surprise me, as there a lot of people who habitually use the language correctly, but for such a person to to do this even once is surprising (and very disappointing.)
kobayashimaru3 wrote:Great, now I'm going to be hesitating every time I'm about to use the word "literally."

Good.
natey wrote:I correct people on this all the time.

I hope that's figuratively all the time. :wink: I often just cringe inwardly, but will sometimes tell people that "The only word in the English language that should never be used figuratively is 'literally'."
Felona wrote:People who use the word "literally" when thy clearly don't mean "literally" deserve to be accosted by crazy men for every transgression.

Here, here.
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Re: "Literally" Discussion

Postby funda » Fri Apr 09, 2010 2:01 pm UTC

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

Here, here.



Ummm ... hear, hear ? :roll:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hear,_hear
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Re: "Literally" Discussion

Postby entropic » Fri Apr 09, 2010 2:09 pm UTC

BioTube wrote:The idea of the proper spelling is a new one as well - it seems that people have decided that prescriptivism is part of being civilized. As for double negation, I've yet to see any evidence of it actually being used to form a positive - Wikipedia give the example of "I don't disagree", but completely ignores the fact that 'dis-' isn't grammatically a negation.


I'm not sure if this was your point but, the nuances of double negation in ordinary language is not really captured by ¬¬P = P. They are used, appropriately, to draw attention to ambiguities in what is being doubly denied, e.g. "I didn't not sleep with your sister" might mean I slept in the same in bed as her but we didn't have intercourse. Of course when there is no possible room for manoeuvre in what is being doubly denied it sounds wrong and can properly be reduced to a mere assertion.

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Re: " Literally " Discussion

Postby Manial » Fri Apr 09, 2010 2:10 pm 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.
This.

The comic just made me cringe with memories of obnoxious pedants.

As for my personal usage of 'literally', I only use it as an intensfier when misunderstandings are very unlikely. (Eg. "I literally exploded" - obviously I didn't, given that I'm talking to you; as opposed to "I literally crossed the road to avoid them")

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Re: "Literally" Discussion

Postby 6c61737365 » Fri Apr 09, 2010 2:12 pm UTC

Hi all,
had to register just for posting this.

Anyone else recognizing the bearded guy as John Gruber?

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Re: "Literally" Discussion

Postby rhhardin » Fri Apr 09, 2010 2:21 pm UTC

"literally" = "so much so that it might as well have been literally," a figurative use of "literally."

The joke however was that the pedant didn't see his own distinction when it came up live.

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Re: "Literally" Discussion

Postby ced623 » Fri Apr 09, 2010 2:28 pm UTC

best comic for ages!!! the tetris hell comic was pretty good too but this one is the spirit of XKCD :D great job randall :)
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Re: " Literally " Discussion

Postby homsar » Fri Apr 09, 2010 2:32 pm UTC

Capt. Jon wrote:Forget Merriam-Webster and their Americanish dictionary, what does Fowler's and the OED say?


OED:
OED wrote: 1. nonce-uses. a. By the letters (of a name). b. In letters or literature. Obs.

2. a. With reference to a report, translation, etc.: In the very words, word for word.

b. transf. With exact fidelity of representation.

3. a. In the literal sense.

b. Used to indicate that the following word or phrase must be taken in its literal sense.
Now often improperly used to indicate that some conventional metaphorical or hyperbolical phrase is to be taken in the strongest admissible sense. (So, e.g., in quot. 1863.)

(emphasis mine)

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Re: "Literally" Discussion

Postby suso » Fri Apr 09, 2010 2:40 pm UTC

Uh, the ocean figuratively called, they are literally running out of shrimp.
Imagine theres no signatures....

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Re: "Literally" Discussion

Postby eran_rathan » Fri Apr 09, 2010 2:40 pm UTC

I have registered just to add this comment from the show 'Psych':


Juliet O'Hara: Detective Lassiter is literally on fire today!
Shawn Spencer: 'Literally' as in Micheal Jackson in a Pepsi commercial, or as in a misuse of the word 'literally'?


that is all.
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Re: "Literally" Discussion

Postby rigwarl » Fri Apr 09, 2010 2:50 pm UTC

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

Here, here.



Ummm ... hear, hear ? :roll:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hear,_hear

The thing with the internet is you can never tell (yes, that's a joke) if someone is being facetious by including a language error in a lengthy post that condemns them, or if someone just made a fool of himself.

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Re: "Literally" Discussion

Postby The Scyphozoa » Fri Apr 09, 2010 3:08 pm UTC

I lol'd at the title-text.
Image
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Re: "Literally" Discussion

Postby squall_line » Fri Apr 09, 2010 3:33 pm UTC

Since nobody else has said it:

I find it amusing that the whole "literally" thing has wound its way into the pedants that make up some of the TV shows that I watch, as eran_rathan pointed out.

However, I decided to post because the one use of the "literally" thing that bugs me the most is the recent Dodge Caravan commercial in which the announcer states: "It literally gave birth to all other minivans."

Perhaps if the emphasis was on the word "literally" in the commercial, it wouldn't be as annoying but the fact that they ephasize "gave birth" is endlessly annoying, especially since the remainder of the commerical isn't humourous in the least (unlike the Toyota Sienna commercials, which are pretty easy to pick out as being tongue-in-cheek).

And, in an automobile commercial (or any advertisement that is regulated by the FCC), it's a pretty strong risk to take, what with the number of pedantic fools in the country and truth-in-advertising laws and such.

I suppose it bugs me more because I know too many people in their 20's and 30's who can't even get "than/then" correct, so I see the whole "literally" thing as a further march down the path to mass ignorance and stupidity.

*edit* Great... this'll be buried at the bottom of Page 2, so literally nobody will see it once Page 3 gets started...


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